Sasha McVeigh met Sara Jenkins at The Islington in London on a wonderfully sunny and upbeat afternoon.
Sasha got to talk about how she started with Country Music, why she had her image on a billboard on main street USA and adventures in Kickstarter. Real people can have dreams and follow them too!
You’ve just started your new tour in the UK, which is 25 dates around the country, how is that going?
It’s going really well, a bit tired because obviously it’s a lot of traveling to different places. What’s really nice is I haven’t really been anywhere in the UK very much. I have been to London before, but never to Liverpool so it was cool getting to go up. And also it’s really great to see all the different audiences because Country is only now starting to emerge into the mainstream and starting to gain momentum. It is good to bring it to different audiences and see how people in other areas of the country respond to it.
Last year you did a lot of touring in the US doing gigs and also festivals. How does the atmosphere differ between the US and the UK?
It’s a lot crazier in the US because it’s a lot more popular and mainstream in America but it is gaining momentum here and obviously there its huge. The festivals they are manic. When I did my first one in 2013 it was definitely a weird experience as you get to realise how enthusiastic they really are for the genre and its just great fun. I love being able to tour over here and tour over there; I mean that’s amazing getting to see all the different audiences. What I have learned the most is that country music is a very universal genre. And I think what people like about it is the whole story telling aspect, so I think when your telling a story it doesn’t matter where you are, everyone is going to appreciate it and relate to it.
Country Music wasn’t that big in the UK so how did you get into that genre of music and who were your biggest influences when you started out?
Its kind of a funny story, my dad has always loved country and folk and that kind of music. He’s a huge Cat Stevens fan and he loves Dolly Parton and he had all the old cassette tapes of the greatest hits of country with Willie Nelson on and up until about 2002 we used to get country music television which was broadcast here in the UK, and there’s also stories that my family always tell me that my dad used to dance with me around our coffee table to country music television, so when I started writing songs when I was about 12 they just came out country and I hadn’t really listened to that genre because when your younger you experiment with different genres of music, and I rediscovered the genre and started listening to it all again. I have always been a huge Elvis Presley fan and always loved Dolly Parton and a lot of those older artists and then I found out about all these new bands such as The Zac Brown Band whom I love.
You do so many gigs on the tour is there anything in particular you have to do to make sure you keep your voice fresh?
It is difficult, the craziest shows that I used to do were when I first went to Nashville in 2012. In Nashville they expect you do be able to do 4-hour shows, luckily with a few other acts so there will be 2 of you on stage and you will do a song each so really its only 2 hours each. But sometimes I had to do that twice a day and that was really difficult because with shows before I had never had to do more than an hour by myself so I had never had to do the hot tea stuff before but definitely when I went to Nashville I had to start with the lemon tea. There are certain things I definitely cant eat or drink when I’m going to sing, cant eat any dairy products before a show or chocolate.
I just try and conserve my voice and practise a lot too, that’s another mistake I did in the beginning, if I had a week without shows I would give my voice a rest completely and I would do a show after and I could feel that it wasn’t as strong. But in America they always think I’m the stereotypical British person when I sit there with my hot tea because they aren’t big tea drinkers over there unless its ice tea (laughs).
When you finished college and you got accepted into universities was it an easy decision to turn them down and pursue your music career or was it difficult and more of a family decision?
It was one of those weird moments, my parents had always known from a really young age that singing is what I really wanted to do and I had always known that once I had finished college that I wanted to pursue my music full time, and up until then I was trying to do half and half and it was too much so my mum actually made a deal with me that if I got good grades at my A-levels then they would support me 100% with my music.
So I managed to get some A’s and some A-Stars which took a lot of hard work, so then I applied to University because there was a part of me saying maybe I should go because its a big step to give all this up when there’s no guarantee of a result with the music but after discussing it with my parents they sold everything, everything except our house, we still have out house in Hereford but my mum sold bits of jewellery she had been left and any paintings that were worth about £500 or anything else we could club together. My parents are now pensioners so it was quite difficult for them too but they have been so supportive.
I think about it now and it still seems crazy at the idea they would go all in with me so its a group endeavour and having their support meant a lot to me and made me want to push and succeed not just for me but for them as well. It was a difficult decision because it wasn’t just my decision but a team decision but I’m glad we did it and hopefully they are thinking it was a good decision as well.
You played at the prestigious Academy Of Country Music in Las Vegas in April 2014 how did you find that?
Whenever anyone asks me that question I still have to think and look back at pictures to see that it did happen and I didn’t imagine the whole thing. My face was on 100ft billboard on the Las Vegas strip, and I didn’t even know until a couple of my friends from the States came to Vegas to see the show and we were at the Venetian and the venue that the show is at is called The Linq which was a new entertainment complex and no one had played on that stage before.
So we were walking down the strip and one of my friends ran up to me and shouted ‘your face is on a huge billboard’ and I said it can’t be, so we all went running along and there is was on one of those TV screens that change. It was insane and the show itself was definitely a pinch-me-moment because Hunter Hayes was headlining and Cole Swindell and David Nail were playing there, and I opened the show. It was just amazing, the fact that The Academy Of Country Music had thought I was good enough to do that when there are so many signed artists they could have chosen was just awesome and is one of the highlights of my whole life.
In the US your music has been played on a lot of different radio stations, then in the UK the BBC played it and named you artist of the week. Did you know that was going to happen or was it a shock once it was announced?
I submitted my music to BBC introducing and they always send you the email saying there’s no guarantee that you are going to get played and I was thinking that I might as well give it a try and just see. The other thing is that my EP that is out now is all acoustic which is why I’m going to Nashville in November to record a full band album, so I didn’t think they would play an acoustic thing on the radio, would it even work?
A couple of months later I got an email that they had listened to it and then a couple of months after that they played it and then a couple of months later they played it again and I didn’t even know I was artist of the week until I looked on their website and saw it. It was a shock, but then they asked me to play Wychwood festival and Lakefest so BBC introducing have been really cool and it was really nice to get that sort of recognition in my home country. There are a lot of country artists in the UK and none of them are getting the recognition they deserve so it was fantastic that they chose me.
Last year you released your EP and toured the US and your new album being released in spring 2015 how have things changed from how you recorded your EP and how you will be recording your full album?
Its going to be really cool, since I recorded that EP I have written a lot of new material and all my songs I write them myself, I don’t co-write apart from one track called Crooked Road. I still don’t know if that one is going to be on the album because I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I keep changing my mind. I haven’t been in the studio since I did that recording and I actually recorded that EP in November 2012 and released in March 2013 so its going to be great to go in the studio with a full band including mandolin and banjos and just see how that’s different to before.
I’m a very hands on person in the studio and the studio I’m recording with is called Coalmine studios in Nashville and the guy Greg Cole is amazing who will hate me for saying this but he is seriously the best producer in the world. We have been emailing backwards and forwards trying to get this all sorted and he tells me I will have to let go of the reins sometimes and I might not be able to be there all the time while everyone is recording but I tell him I want to be there for every little bit because I love all that experience and you can learn so much about other musicians. I think its going to be on a whole other level compared to the last one so I’m hoping I’m ready for it.
In the UK you have started your tour and you also played Rock The Farm Festival in August…Was that the main festival in Britain that you played?
I also played at Yeehaw UK as well which is one of the first country festivals now starting in the UK. Country to Country is the one that happens at the 02 which is the main one but this guy Bryan (Steers) has just started Yeehaw. He is a huge country fan and I think he is going to be big in the Country Music festival market because it was just so well put on and had acts from Nashville and all over America as well as British acts too which is really cool and they had me as a special guest which was really nice. Rock The Farm is in Herefordshire and that was a going back home gig for me, main stage too.
So your next UK tour is in January and the North American one is May to August?
We are still figuring out the dates for all the tours because its a couple of months away but you still have to start all the planning and all that stuff now but the rough plan is that we will do a UK, Ireland and Europe tour about January until April with some breaks in between. And then the American one will be roughly from the end of May until August and we are going to include dates in Canada as well.
With your new album due out in spring 2015 and you recording that in November this year are you going to tour next year?
(laughs). The whole album is going to be funded through Kickstarter so actually getting the link up Monday, and I still need to do one of those awkward videos to tell people why they should support my album. But we are just going to try our best to promote it and I have never been to Europe before or over to Ireland and performed before so we just want to bring my music to different audiences and see what the response is.
I will actually be with a band on those dates too as all the dates I have done I have been solo but the Europe tour in January is going to be a full band who are from Leeds. Its going to being a while new dynamic to the show and people who have been to the old shows and then will come to the new ones will get to see a whole new different side to me.
Sasha’s Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sashamcveigh/sasha-mcveigh-debut-album
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Sasha McVeigh website: http://www.sashamcveighmusic.com/
Sara Jenkins interviewed and photographed Sasha McVeigh on 20th September 2014 in Islington, London.