Artist Spotlight: Sara Evans Returns Stronger Than Ever
By: Ben Foster
Over the course of her outstanding career, country crooner Sara Evans has enjoyed a run of eleven Top 20 hits (including her signature chart-toppers “Born to Fly” and “Suds in the Bucket”), sold over five million records, and has won CMA and ACM awards. After a waiting period of six years, Sara is finally back with a full album of new material. She has returned to the country singles chart with her hit single “A Little Bit Stronger,” and the accompanying album Stronger is set for a release date of March 8. In addition, her second novel Softly & Tenderly is available in a limited release, with a wider release set to coincide with the release of the album. I recently had a chance to speak with this talented artist over the phone for a friendly chat about her upcoming album and other current projects.
Ben Foster: First I’d like to hear a little bit about your current single “A Little Bit Stronger” – What drew you to that song, and how have your fans responded to it?
Sara Evans: You know, I don’t really know exactly what drew me to that song. I just loved it. I was listening to a CD of a bunch of songs that were being pitched to me, and that one just stood out, and I instantly played it again. I just thought “Now that is a great song. That is a great breakup song.” It’s empowering. Even though it’s sad, and talking about the reality of what this person is feeling, it’s still empowering, so I loved it. And the fans, they love it too. Everybody’s relating to the song really well. We just went to number 22 on the charts, and we’ve already sold 350,000 singles, so I think that really speaks volumes to the fact that there’s a real passion level for the song. People are going to their computers and downloading it because we’ve all been there. We’ve all been through something hard and then come out stronger.
Ben: That definitely puts a more positive spin on the song. One of those downloads was mine, I might add.
Sara: Well, thank you very much!
Ben: It was definitely a worthwhile purchase. Seeing as “A Little Bit Stronger” also appears on the Country Strong soundtrack, would you like to give us your thoughts on the film Country Strong?
Sara: I loved it! I thought it was really, really good. But I love Gwyneth Paltrow, and I think Tim McGraw has just really done a great job in acting over the years. I’m really proud of him. But I thought it was a cool movie.
Ben: Yeah, Tim McGraw’s turned out to be a really good actor, like in The Blind Side too. Since it’s been a few years since we’ve gotten a new studio album from you, and you were able to take some time off, do feel like the album benefited in any way as a result?
Sara: I do, definitely. I was worried about taking so long to finish this album, but now that it’s done, listening to it and thinking about it, I feel like more artists should do that – should take a longer time to make a record. You know, just really be relaxed about finding the songs and making sure it’s exactly what you want it to be versus trying to rush something out there. I feel like it’s the same Sara Evans sound that I’ve always put out, but it’s definitely all new songs and nothing that you’ve heard from me before.
Ben: I see. So how does Stronger compare with the previous Sara Evans albums in style and themes?
Sara: In style, it’s very similar. I definitely have things that I prefer over other things. I love big electric guitar solos. I love fiddle. I love to have a few songs that are just incredibly country. I always try to get a song on each album that I wrote with Marcus Hummon because he brings his own sound. So it’s a lot like my other albums in that aspect, but there are some topics that I’ve never sang about.
Ben: You mentioned Marcus Hummon. Would you like to talk about him and some of the other co-writers you worked with in writing for this album?
Sara: I wrote several songs with my brother Matt Evans, and Nathan Chapman. I wrote a song called “Ticket to Ride” with Leslie Satcher. I wrote a song called “Life Without Losing” with three guys [Barry Dean, Andrew Dorff, Luke Laird]. I wrote a song called “Wildfire” with Kara DioGuardi, and Matt (my brother), and Marti Frederiksen.
Ben: One that stood out with me is that you had a co-write with Kara DioGuardi. How did that come about?
Sara: Somebody contacted my brother and said ‘Would you and Sara be interested in writing with Kara?’ So we actually wrote two great songs for this project. Only one of them went on this album, but I’m saving the other one for another project.
Ben: I know another project that you’ve had going on is that you’ve recently released your second novel Softly & Tenderly. Would you like to tell us about your new book?
Sara: It picks up where the first book [The Sweet By and By] left off. My character Jade is a woman who is going through a lot of stuff that a lot of women go through. It’s a great story of redemption and forgiveness – not letting the things that happen to you defeat you. It’s really good. This one gets really dramatic. Things happen, and she finds things out about her husband that she no clue of – things that he’s been hiding in his past. So you definitely need to pick it up.
Ben: I see. It sounds pretty cool. I hear you also have an upcoming television appearance that we’ll want to be sure to tune in for.
Sara: March 9th – I’ll be on Good Morning America performing my new single.
Ben: We will mark that date down definitely!
Sara: Thank you!
Ben: Are there any songs on this new album that stand out as being ones that you’re particularly eager to share with the fans?
Sara: Well, I can’t wait for everybody to hear the whole thing, but there are a couple songs that I’m really excited about. I redid an old Rod Stewart song called “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” and I’m hoping that that’s gonna be a single. I think it’s a fabulous song. He had a big hit with it, and I would love to also have a big hit with it. And then there’s a song called “What That Drink Cost Me,” and it’s about a woman who loses her husband in a drunk driving accident. He was actually driving drunk. The song speaks about his alcohol abuse, so it’s very sad.
Ben: That was one of my favorite songs from the album. It’s definitely sad, and your performance just seemed to make it even sadder. That really seemed to elevate it.
Sara: Thank you!
Ben: Seeing that you’ve been in the music business for a while, had hit songs and platinum albums and won awards, I’d like to ask what would you say have been your proudest moments as a country artist thus far?
Sara: Early in my career I was able to open for George Jones at the Ryman, and that was out of this world. My first performance at the Grand Ole Opry – Vince Gill introduced me. Winning Female Vocalist of the Year at the ACMs, winning Video of the Year for the CMAs, and every time performing on the awards show is phenomenal. So there have been a lot, and I’m looking forward to a lot more.
Ben: I notice one special treat we get on this album is a bluegrass version of “Born to Fly,” which of course is a song that we all know and love. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that?
Sara: It’s ten years ago that “Born to Fly” went number one, and so I just wanted to celebrate that a little bit, and put a different version of the song on. I thought it deserved to be on two albums. That song was a life-changer for me.
Ben: That’s a nice little ten-year anniversary thing to do.
Ben: Would you like to tell a little bit about your experience working with producers such as Nathan Chapman and Tony Brown?
Sara: Nathan – I had never worked with him before. He’s very young. He produces Taylor Swift’s albums. I had a meeting with him, and I just thought he’s really cool, and he could bring a really fresh perspective to the project, and he did. He not only produced, but he and I wrote a ton of songs together with my brother, so that was great. He is just so talented, and because I was taking so long to make the record, he had already been committed to other projects, so he couldn’t finish the album when I needed to get back into the studio. We called Tony Brown. Obviously, he’s a legend, and he’s phenomenal. So we just had a great time working together. We totally saw eye-to-eye musically, and I’m sure I’ll work with him again if he’ll work with me.
Ben: Sounds great! He’s done some pretty good stuff with Vince Gill and Trisha Yearwood.
Sara: Absolutely. And Reba.
Ben: One last question I’d like to ask you – What is country music to Sara Evans?
Sara: It’s my life really. It’s not my whole life, because I also have a family and friends, but it’s been such a part of my life. Since I was four years old, I’ve been singing country music. I feel like the entire country music industry has been a big extended family to me, and it’s been a really, really good friend.
Ben Foster is a contributing writer to Roughstock and is the owner/editor of The 1-to-10 Country Review blog.