Angel or Devil, She’s Darling Either Way: An Interview with Sarah Darling
Even if you have never heard Sarah Darling’s music, you will most definitely recognize her. Anyone semi-familiar with the Big & Rich music video “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy” surely remember the mannequin that shares a back seat of a convertible Cadillac with Big Kenny that shocks everyone by coming “alive” at the end of the song. That mannequin was Sarah Darling. With her big beautiful blue eyes, she has won over several music video producers and been in several videos that have appeared across the CMT and GAC airwaves. It has given the artist a good insight into the country music business and made Darling fairly well-connected early in her career.
Darling has recently released her second album—following her freshman effort Every Monday Morning—called Angels & Devils on the Black River Entertainment label. Physically, the release is made up of two short EP-length discs. Half of the release is acoustic-based and the other half of the album is done with modern country production. The highlight of both of the discs is “Bad Habit.” Backed by Vince Gill singing harmony, Darling does her best Lee Ann Womack impression as she describes wanting a relationship that is similar to an addiction.
Darling was kind enough to sit down with Engine 145 to talk about the new album and her thoughts on country music.
Ken Morton, Jr.: What was the importance of Angels & Devils as an album title?
Sarah Darling: Obviously, I have a song on the record with that title, but the real reason we called it that is it’s a double-disc EP. There’s another side you get to the album. It’s kind of cool because for people that don’t get to see that, it’s kind of a preview of that side of me. The acoustic side of me—just me and a guitar. It’s kind of a cool thing. So we called it Angels & Devils just for the fact that you’re getting two different discs. It’s kind of a fun spin on it.
KM: What was the thought process of doing two different EPs rather than one larger encompassing traditional album?
SD: I think the people at the label believe in me and they get to see this part of me all the time. They get to see me do the acoustic stuff and the stuff with just me and a piano. It was something everyone wanted. The label wanted everyone to hear that side of me too. The singer/songwriter is a big part of who I am. It kind of gives you a new look and a new sound. Still, you’re getting the other songs as well. Overall, it’s something I love. Two sides.
KM: Tell me about the new album. What can fans expect from this one?
SD: I had another album come out a couple years ago called Every Monday Morning and I describe the new album as Sarah Darling 2.0. It’s just so much different in a good way. It’s wonderful. The topics are more universal. I love a couple of songs on there. In fact, one of them, I had Vince Gill sing back-up vocals on. And that was an amazing thing for me as well. It’s called “Bad Habit.” There are just a lot really neat songs. I spent a lot of time writing for the record. I always tell people that I haven’t been writing for this record for the last couple of months. I’ve been writing for two years. I’m always feeling like I’m trying to get better and work on the new project. It’s important to capture where I am in my life.
KM: How did the Vince Gill collaboration come about?
SD: The sad part about the story is that I couldn’t be there when he actually sang. But here’s how the story goes. I really heard him singing on it when I finished the song. I went down to where he sings down in Nashville every Monday. I have kind of met him a couple of times there. And I had finally sent the song to his assistant. Actually, I sent it probably about five or six times. (Laughter) Finally, he did get it and he loved the song. It’s been an amazing thing. He kind of endorses the song and the finished product sounds gorgeous.
KM: With two and a half years between this new album and Every Monday Morning, what has evolved with you as an artist and your sound?
SD: The sound has definitely matured more. The topics that I write about are more universal. It’s kind of fun to see. I think my first record is more about heartbreak that was tied to one particular situation. And I think it’s kind of fun to see that now I’m writing and coming into my own as a vocalist. The things that you learn from going from your first album into your next are just amazing. Vocals are completely different from going out on the road and visiting radio stations and playing. It’s the travel. You learn a lot. It builds character. I feel that there’s a character on this record that no one has ever seen yet. That’s what is really neat about it for me.
KM: You have chosen a couple covers with a U2 song and an old Elton John cover. Tell me how you chose those.
SD: On the acoustic side, I did the Elton John cover. One reason I put that on there, is that everyone who has heard me play it live has loved it. It’s very different. It’s nothing like Elton’s version. One day, we were messing around in the studio and did a one-pass take. It just seemed like a magical moment and we wanted to put it on there. It’s not tuned or anything. It is what it is. Real. There are imperfections in it and that’s part of what makes it so cool. On the U2 side, I’ve always loved U2—they’re my favorite band. I had recorded the song last summer and asked my label to put it on the record. People have been really drawn to that song. I wanted to give it to the fans. I’ve been kind of doing that song all summer long. So many fans wanted it, I wanted to make sure they had it.
KM: Your first radio release off of the album was “Something to Do with Your Hands.” It’s a little racy and frisky. What drew you to that as the first single?
SD: I think it is infectious and fun. It does have that side to it. It is a little racy. But the cool part about it is that men and women both love it. It caters to both. Every woman wants attention. And guys want women to want them. It’s just a fun song. It’s a fun play about the human dynamic. It’s had some really great response. I love playing it live and watching the ladies. They really love it. I love to play it live.
KM: And you had a very special guest on the music video, didn’t you?
SD: We had a pro wrestler named AJ Styles who plays my love interest in the video. He plays a handyman who I want to come over. Before he comes over, I break everything in the house so he has to stay awhile and fix it. It’s kind of in an old retro setting so it looks old-school. It’s clean and campy and cute.
KM: Beaver Cleaver’s mom but in a sexy kind of way.
SD: (Laughter) Exactly! That’s so funny. I’ve heard that a few times now. It totally does look like that.
KM: In a big label world, what are some of the positives and negatives being on a smaller label like Black River?
The positives are that it’s great because it’s like a family. You know everybody. They really believe in me as a person. They give me free reign to be creative. To me, that’s something I wouldn’t want to trade for anything. The cons to being on an independent are that it takes more time. You have to work a little harder. People think you have to work harder or might even look past you if you’re on a smaller label. But independents are staying in the game. I pull for independents. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I want to stay where I’m at and keep creating great music. I kind of see the momentum we’ve built over months and years and it’s great to see where we’re at compared to a year ago. They’ve stuck with me for the last three years. I’ve watched some come and go like a flash. They come and they go. But they’re interested in building a career with me and providing artist development. That’s what everyone needs in this industry.
KM: Before you got your record deal with Black River, you were featured in some music videos. How did that help in getting your foot in the door into the music side of things and furthering your own knowledge of the music business?
SD: I wanted to be around the music business. I didn’t want to get a desk job right away. I hooked up with an agency when I got into Nashville. I had done some acting and modeling when I was back home in Iowa. That’s where I am originally from. I ended up doing that and started getting calls for auditions. My first job was the “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” music video. It’s such a funny video anyways. After that, I did about five or six other ones. I got to see how it works. It was perfect because before I ever did what I’m doing now, I had the chance to be an observer. I was on the sets of videos and got to go hear people play. It helped me find myself and my place in the music business. I think you have to set yourself apart and make yourself different. It was a good time for me to learn. There’s a time for everything. There are a lot of people who helped me from that time.
KM: Your instrument of choice is very distinctive. It caught my attention the first time I saw you playing it. Tell me about your blue guitar—give me the background on that.
SD: I loved writing on a guitar. And I wrote a song called “Blue Guitar.” And any guitar can be a blue guitar, I guess. But it’s an instrument to help you get through what you’re going through. And I think certain instruments help artists deal with certain situations. They’re attracted to them in certain instances. Even some writers will only use a certain guitar. They might think it’s a lucky guitar. I’ve met about twenty people that think that. I have a favorite guitar, my Baby Taylor guitar. I only take that on writes. I always think I’ll write a hit on that guitar.
KM: What is country music to Sarah Darling?
SD: Country music to me is family. It is values. It’s what I grew up on. It really is. It’s my grandpa. It’s all those things.
- luckyoldsun: Jim Z-- I get the feeling Barry was this close to calling you what Kinky Friedman called his guy from El …
- Leeann Ward: Thanks, NM. I like a good pop hook, to be honest. So, maybe I need to try it again.
- Barry Mazor: OK, Jim Z. That changes everything. I surrender.
- Jim Z: to call the Dirty River Boys an "Austin area band" is still incorrect. They are based in El Paso.
- nm: Leeann, you and I often have similar tastes in more-traditional country. And, to my ears, Sam Hunt's voice and lyrics …
- Barry Mazor: Matter of fact, as always--I did. The notes say the album was recorded & mixed by and at "The …
- Roger: Looking forward to picking up the Jamey Johnson Christmas EP - love all of those songs and can't wait for …
- Jim Z: that record was recorded in El Paso. (you could look it up) and other than appearing in Austin once in …
- Leeann Ward: Yes, I can always use more dobro in my life! Thanks for the Phil Leadbetter tip! I haven't been able to …
- Barry Mazor: OK, Jim. The record's more or less out of Austin. But I'm sure they're also good in El Paso...