Interview: Sara Evans Writes the Second Chapter of Her Career With ‘Words’
It was Evans who had the final say on the songs she recorded, the band members who played on it and every other detail on Words. And, perhaps for the first time in her entire career, Evans is truly pleased with the end result.
"When you’re an artist and you go in and make a piece of music like this, it sounds like you’re bragging, but at the same time, you’re like, ‘This is so great!’ because it’s not just me. It’s the songs. It’s my co-producer," Evans tells The Boot. "This album is so great because there were great songs available. I don’t like to know who wrote the songs; I just say, ‘Send me songs. Send me songs that you think are great, so weed them out first. Don’t tell me who wrote them, and don’t tell me when they were written, because I don’t want any opinion.’ And then, when we finished, it ended up that there were 14 females on it, and we all thought that was a really cool thing."
Although Evans didn't intend to make Words so women-driven, the fact that so many female songwriters appear on the record is just part of Evans' determined return to an industry that, at one time, she wasn't sure she belonged in anymore.
"Everything is so -- still -- so bro-country. It’s made me kind of prideful; it’s given me a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. This is incredible," she says, holding up a copy of Words. "I want to still be played at country radio, but the last time I had a single, which was "Slow Me Down," it was 2014, and I literally killed myself to get that single added at country radio. And it was humiliating, and it was exhausting. I had to leave my children; we did 33 free shows, on top of all the shows I have to do to make money. I just said, ‘I’m not doing it anymore.’ I told my label, I told my management, through sobbing tears, ‘I’m not doing this radio s--t anymore.
"I don’t feel like I deserve to have to do a guitar pull with four brand-new artists when I’ve sold millions of records. I’ve contributed a lot to country music," she adds. "It just made me feel dirty or something ... The promotional staff [said], ‘We can’t get females played right now.’"
After departing from Sony Music Nashville’s RCA Nashville -- her label home since 1997 -- at the beginning of 2016, Evans signed to Sugar Hill Records. Then, the label made some structural changes, and Evans left without releasing anything. Still, Evans knew she had more music inside of her that she wanted to make -- and she decided that, this time, she was going to do it on her terms. With a little bluegrass, a little pop and a whole lot of country, Words became exactly what Evans had conceived in her mind, putting the entire project together piece by piece, until it was precisely what she intended.
"If you listen to all of my records, they all have a little part of me," Evans explains. "So there’s a part of me that’s very bluegrass-y, and incredibly country, because I grew up on a farm in Missouri -- I grew up singing country music. I started in bluegrass -- but then there’s also so many other sides of me -- really pop. [The song] "Words" is more Americana, and kind of folk-y. So every album really does represent each part of me."
I think that, for a lot of years, fear was this real, dominating factor in my life ... I’m so much more confident and know what I’m doing now.
One of Evans' personal favorite songs on Words is a tearjerker called "Letting You Go." Evans wrote it with Emily Shackleton and Victoria Banks, about her oldest child, 17-year-old Avery, who is starting his senior year of high school this fall.
"We just started talking about how fast it goes, and how sad it is," Evans recalls, tears filling her eyes. "‘Oh my gosh, wasn’t I just brushing your hair?' The chorus is trying to stay sane, like, I’m not going to overreact: ‘Loving you is holding you / Lifting you up and giving you wings.’ But then, in the second verse, it’s kind of angry -- ‘Time is a liar’ -- because I remember people telling me, ‘It goes fast. It really does.’ And I used to think, ‘Yeah yeah.’ And it does, because I still think of Avery as my kindergartner.
"But then we were really determined that we didn’t want to leave it on a bad note," Evans continues. "I’m not angry -- but I am, just at life in general. Why does it have to go so fast? Then at the end, we said, ‘But you were also born to fly away.’ We were like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I thought of that."
Even though Evans is releasing Words independently, her dreams for the record are bigger than ever. And with so much of her own blood, sweat and tears poured into the record, there's a good chance Evans will accomplish everything she hopes for, and more.
"I want to be nominated for Grammys. I really want to be recognized for this music," Evans acknowledges. "I’ve always said, since we started, with this new album -- and I’ve wanted that with all my music, but with this especially, I guess since I have that little chip on my shoulder about what’s happening in my genre -- I want people to go, ‘Have you heard the new Sara Evans record?’ And I want that buzz to be going on ... I want people to say, ‘This is a really, really great album,’ and then the whole family listens to it nonstop for a year, because that’s what my family does with artists. That music means so much to us."
I’ve always been somebody who just wants to see the best in the world ... I just want everything to be good. And I want to be happy.
It's been 20 years since Evans' debut album, Three Chords and the Truth, was released, and the 46-year-old has learned plenty since then, mostly about herself. The lessons along the way, even the painful ones, have made Evans who she is today, both as an artist and as a businesswoman.
"We went to LA to make [Three Chords and the Truth]. So I was trying to just find my way, figure out what to do," says Evans. "The first 10, 12 years of my career, I feared getting any call from my manager, because I would fear that the label was upset about something ... I think that, for a lot of years, fear was this real, dominating factor in my life. I’m such a people-pleaser. I don’t want to make anybody mad. I never wanted anybody to think that I wasn’t appreciative or I wasn’t willing to work hard. So in those ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, because I’m not that girl anymore. I’m so much more confident and know what I’m doing now."
Because Words was released on Evans' own label, much is riding on the success of the record. But whether it sells millions of copies or not, Evans knows she has the tenacity to face whatever the future holds.
"I’ve always been a dreamer. I’ve always been somebody who just wants to see the best in the world. I’m incredibly optimistic. I’m really, really happy. I love to laugh. I love to spend time with my family," Evans admits. "So I think, you take the music away and I’m first and foremost a mom, secondly a wife. I think I’m just this free spirit who -- I just want life to be good. I don’t want the bottom to drop, because the bottom has dropped so many times in my life, so I just want everything to be good. And I want to be happy."
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