Sara Evans on Words, Motherhood, and What She Would Change About Country Music Radio
She's sold millions of records, had five #1 hit singles, and, today, the country music star released her eighth studio album – Words.
Missouri native Sara Evans is busier than ever.
We caught up with the ACM Female Vocalist of the Year to discuss the launch of her record label, her favorite Southern meal, her highly anticipated album, and what it's like being a woman in the country music industry. "I'm a perfectionist in every area of my life," said Sara. "being a mom, wife, businesswoman, artist, entertainer, and friend."
Why did you name your label Born To Fly Records?
Born To Fly was always such a special song for me because I wrote it about how much I loved my home and childhood growing up on a farm in Missouri, but I was also anxious to leave and move to Nashville. I knew I was supposed to pursue my dream of becoming a music star. I had just had my first child, which was obviously an amazing experience. I was determined that I was going to be this really cute mom, and I had nine months to just lay there and think about all the things I wanted to accomplish. Everything in my life came together with that song and album, and it really does symbolize that time in my life when I made a lot of decisions that advanced my career. So, when we decided to start the label, Born To Fly Records was the perfect name.
Letting You Go is an incredibly moving song about motherhood. What it was like to record?
I have three kids, and we are all incredibly close and have such a great time together. But, there is something special about your first-born, and that mother-son relationship. I always felt like it was [me and my daughters] against Avery. He really is a special kid, so I wanted to put something on this album that pays tribute to him. It's really about where he is in life; he's starting his senior year in high school, and I knew it would be at least two years before I wrote another album. I wrote it with Emily Shackelton and Victoria Banks, who are both women in different stages of motherhood. We were thinking about all the phases of child-bearing and how each one is so fun. There hasn't been one stage I haven't loved. As the three of us were writing, we were literally sobbing. We were making every line as heart-wrenching as possible.
I love the verse where it says, "Time is a liar / wish I could set the clock on fire / turn it back to yesterday / but it just keeps ticking away." [Begins to cry] Time really does tick away, not just in raising children, but in life in general. And sometimes, gosh, I just want everything to slow down. But, I also wanted to make the point that I'm not going to hold him back. That's why we put in the song "but you were also born to fly." Just like I was when I was his age.
Some of your siblings sang harmony on Words. What was that like?
I grew up in a family of 7 kids, and [most of us] are musically talented. I grew up playing in bands with my siblings from the time I was 5 years old. The two sisters that are closest in age to me are Lesley and Ashley, and they both have incredible voices. They sound very similar to me, and come on the road with me a ton. So, I'm very accustomed to music with my family. They follow me so well and are such amazing singers. I had them come in the studio and sing harmony because they sound great and they're fast. It saves time and money.
Your daughter, Olivia, sang background vocals on your single Marquee Sign. Do you see her following your footsteps?
Yes! Absolutely. Olivia says she would quit school right now to pursue being an artist and model. I'm not going to insist that she goes to college, because she doesn't need to. She's talented and gorgeous. It's the same way with my son; he's a guitar player and songwriter. All three of my kids are musical geniuses, which always shocks me. I'm like, "Gosh, y'all are so good." I definitely want to support her. We were just talking about this the other day – she opened up to me and said she really wanted to do it on her own. She wants my help and guidance because she knows I've had a successful career, but she's very independent. It's cool. I told her to do whatever she wants to do, and I'll be there for support.
Several strong female songwriters collaborated on Words, like Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott. What was that like?
I love the statement that it makes, and I love it even more because it wasn't something that I did on purpose. I never know who the songwriter is when I listen to a song because I don't want to have any thoughts about it other than, "is this a great song or not?" Once we finished recording the album, we counted and there were fourteen women songwriters including myself. It's such a great statement because country music is so not playing women right now. There are only 2 women in the top 40, and that just makes me sick because there are so many talented women in country music. It's so weird, and I don't think it's a women verses men issue.
I wonder why [country radio isn't] being more diverse in what they're putting in the playlists. You use to be able to hear All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight by Hank Williams Jr. and then a heartfelt song by Reba McEntire. Not that the Hank Williams Jr. song wasn't great and cool, but you can't have an entire chart full of those songs. It's the only genre that is so narrow right now. In pop, you hear everything. I can't turn on country radio and listen to songs about trucks and parties all day. It just doesn't resonate with me. What's so funny is I grew up on farm; I grew up in the country; I grew up on a dirt road drinking beer and driving trucks, but that's not all there is to me. And, it's certainly not all I want to listen to.
In I Need A River, you sing about the patience needed to succeed in the industry. Do you have any advice for those hoping to chase a similar dream?
I think you should always be willing to step out of the box and not listen to the norm. You don't have to do anything in a certain order or particular way. I have a lot of friends who gasp, and I mean literally gasp, when I say that I'm not going to force my kids to go to college. My son, Avery, is a talented guitarist, so there's no reason he needs to attend a regular college to take classes in math and English unless he wants to do that. He just wants to go head-on into advancing himself as a musician.
So, I would just [say] to follow your dreams – even though that sounds cliché. You really have to think for yourself and make things happen. We live in a generation of spoiled and entitled people who think things should just be handed to them, and, frankly, it's a really soft generation. I think people need to toughen up and be willing to work hard. I have busted my ass over the years to stay on country radio. I always thought it was totally possible to have it all, and it is! But, it takes a lot of work. I'm a perfectionist in every area of my life – being a mom, wife, businesswoman, artist, entertainer, and friend. I want to be the best that I can be, and I have no patience for people who give up when it gets too hard.
You've said several times that you had to dig a little deeper for Words. What do you mean by that? How was the process different from your previous albums?
I knew this wasn't going to be the typical album where we were going to go to country radio and ask them to add the singles. Do I want them to add the singles? Of course I do! I want to be on country radio; that's my home. But, I knew that probably wasn't going to happen, and we were going to explore other avenues than that. I also know that my fan base is waiting on my music, so I didn't consider commercial radio at all. That's not to say this album isn't commercial, but there are a few songs where I may have gotten pushback in the past from my label. But, over all, I will tell you that the process was very similar to all of my records. I can't deny what I love. It's a Sara Evans record.