Campfire Tales: Sasha McVeigh interviewed

UK country girl Sasha McVeigh has had a pretty big 2015. She’s released her debut record and headlined her first UK-wide tour, and is about to embark on her latest run at the top of the bill. We caught up with Sasha to discuss British attitudes to country music, her record, and experience of Nashville.

Back in April her first headline tour, alongside US roots rocker Sonia Leigh, started with a bang “I was thinking if we can just sell a couple of tickets here and there it’ll be fine” she laughs “I never thought in my wildest dreams that we’d sell out in London.” But that was a long way from where she started with pubs and clubs asking “Can’t you do some Adele, or Katy Perry or whatever” when they found out she was a country singer. Staying true to her roots is paying dividends in the longer term “I wanted to do what I was doing and I thought well if they’re not interested in country they're not going to like my own material, yet here I am in 2015 doing a tour of the UK!” Throughout our chat McVeigh is excitable and enthusiastic about touring, music, Disney, the crowd, Nashville, really life in general.

And talking about London’s Country To Country (C2C) festival in March also ramps up the excitement levels “That festival has opened the door to many people and helped them realise that country music isn’t as stereotypical as it once was. My friends used to laugh at me because I liked country, they were like “Oh, all that banjo stuff” and I used to say “It’s not all banjo, yes it’s a key instrument, but it’s not all like you think.” And the 24 year old is impressed with the festival’s setup “Because the pop-up stages are free to the public it means all sorts of people go there, people that aren’t even country fans can go because its free.”

Her joint headline tour in April mixed McVeigh’s more pop leaning take on country with Leigh’s rock heavy music, and its genesis was on Twitter “A mutual friend that I did a show with in Atlanta mentioned Sonia and that he’d written some stuff with her and that we should get in touch. What was super weird was that literally two days after that she started following me on Twitter, so we just started talking.” And from there their transatlantic friendship grew “In January [2015] we ended up being in Nashville at the same time and she said she’d be at C2C. It turned out we were both on the Big Entrance stage and we got on really well. So I said “I’ve got this idea for a tour and it’d be cool if we did it together” When I go and watch shows I always like there to be a bit of diversity. And it’s somehow managed to work.”

Nashville has been a big part of McVeigh’s life over the last few years, kicking off with support from her mum and dad “My parents always had this deal with me that if I did well in my exams they’d help me with my music. When I got A’s and A*’s I’d done my part. They basically sold whatever they could to go to Nashville and get this thing moving and sent off some of my music to some of the guys that book acts.” And it was a bit of a whirlwind when the young Herefordshire born girl arrived “The first day I got there they put me on the stage and left me there for four hours; that’s what it’s like in Nashville. It was a massive learning curve.” With writers rounds and bars to fill with acts of all levels of experience it ended up being more work than holiday “We were there for two weeks, half vacation and half serious. I ended getting booked every day; I literally performed every day for two weeks! It was such a huge deal for me.” It helped smooth things that McVeigh’s very English accent went down well with her American hosts “I must admit I that might have been a soft spot, sometimes when I was singing on stage they’d say to me “can you just talk for an hour, we love your voice”.”

One of the key learns that McVeigh took from her time in Nashville was a building of confidence on stage “My attitude was there’s no point in doing it half heartedly. This is what I’ve always wanted to do what was the point in letting my shyness in the beginning hold me back.” And attending the famous songwriters rounds was a key part of that process, as was the support of other artists in town “What’s great about Nashville is that everyone builds each other up, and that’s rare in any industry to find a community of people like that. That’s what I loved about going there, any time I tried out something new or different, or something I hadn’t done before I wouldn’t get someone saying “oh no you can’t play here” everyone’s like “come on play your stuff, we want to hear it.””

Her debut album, I Stand Alone, came about on the back of that Nashville trip, and due to a successful Kickstarter campaign “Without that I couldn’t have done this album” and it’s not all about the money, it’s also “a great way to engage with fans. To have this feeling that we’re all in this together.” More trips to Nashville followed “We recorded half of it in November and the other half in January.” And the chance to play with some of the exceptional session musicians in the town was an eye opener “We went into a studio in Franklin, to play with Lonnie Wilson, he’s a drummer, like the most famous drummer in Nashville; he played on Luke Bryan’s latest record, he played on Dustin Lynch’s album, he’s got all these gold records on his wall because he’s a songwriter a well. I’m thinking “Oh my gosh this guy is going to be playing on all my songs” That was really surreal. What I loved is that they were so down to earth. And they really took my songs to the place that I’d always wanted them to be in. Really cool.”

Sasha's debut record is out now and available from all good online music stores. More information on her current tour is available on her website.

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