Interview: Sarah Simmons

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“When I was five, my spunky grandma introduced me to Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, all those incredible vocalists. At that same time, my dad showed me Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and Led Zeppelin. I learned to appreciate everything from the beginning,” says vocal powerhouse Sarah Simmons.

“I started singing all around the house, and my mom said we needed to do something with that. In fifth grade, my teacher heard me singing in the bathroom, and she talked me into performing at this art form workshop we were attending. I sang ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ a cappella. I took vocal lessons and joined a musical theater group,” she says of her musical childhood. “I started writing songs at 13, I knew it’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I told my mom I want to perform and tour as long as Willie Nelson.”

The Alabama native later won a spot on season four of hit television show, The Voice, where the audience was astounded by her five-octave range and her style. “It’s reality television, so it has its pros and cons of course; it really is, overall, an incredible experience,” Simmons recalls. “When people ask for advice about it, I always tell them to remember that it’s an experience, not their career. It’s a stepping stone. That’s what it did for me, I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime”. After her stint on the show, the singer stayed in Los Angeles for a time, but her heart was in the South, and a move to Nashville seemed like a no-brainer.

Now, Simmons will release her debut full length, Freedom, on August 26th. “My album has rock n’ roll, blues…it really has a little bit of everything on it. I can’t keep to one genre, someday, I may even go try opera,” she says with a laugh. “My producer challenged me like crazy, and scared me sometimes, but in a good way!” Simmons is also working with film, television, and a host of high profile producers and directors for other content, which she affectionately calls “a busy blessing”. Simmons decided to release the album independently, without the aid of a record label. “It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. I have a team of folks who are helping me, it’s kind of like we have our own label,” she explains.

Simmons will celebrate with album release shows in New York City and Nashville, and recently released the video for her latest single, “Staring At The Sun”, written in honor of a friend who had passed away. “When I was moving back to the South from California, I pulled over in the Arizona desert and sat on top of my car. I felt my friend’s spirit all around me, and I wrote that song there. We went back to the desert to make the video for it.”

There’s no sign of slowing down anytime soon; Simmons is on tour until November, and is already writing for her second album. “You can’t stop, if you stop, you’re just sitting and it makes you sad,” she laughs. “I don’t want to stop.”

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Susan Hubbard

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