Sarah Sample is a folk wunderkind with a saccharine style purpose-built to elicit tears from even the most hardened coal miner or cowboy. Her music is two measures poignant lyrical acrobatics and three parts the life observed – she writes about life and love and travel and heartbreak, and she does it with a quiet wonder and an easy, carefree grace that belies a smoldering inner fire.
Eschewing the entertainer’s life on the road for a more family-focused state of affairs in Sheridan, Sample’s music is reflective of someone at ease in both her professional and private lives – a required state for someone capable of recording not one, but two albums of lullaby music.
Critical kudos are part and parcel to the Sarah Sample experience. Her sixth studio album, “Redwing,” was voted “Best Wyoming Album of 2018” by Wyoming Public Radio, and features standouts “The Dance,” a tribute to the time-honored daddy-daughter dance, and the title track, a goose-bumping ode to the life ahead of all of us.
Sample is an exporter of a new Wyoming sound, an arbiter of the burning bright and the haunting dark, and a lyrical portrait artist of the highest caliber. For these reasons and more, singer-songwriter Sarah Sample is one of our Women of Sheridan, Wyo. for 2019.
Sheridan Travel & Tourism’s Shawn Parker sat down with Sarah to discuss her music, her career, and what life is like for a folk artist in Wyoming.
SHAWN: The Wyoming Office of Tourism (WOT) is calling 2019 the “Year of Wyoming Women,” as the state celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage. On December 10, 1869, Wyoming Territory passed the first law in United States history granting women the right to vote and hold public office – more than 50 years prior to the U.S. ratification of the 19th amendment. What does it mean to be a woman in Wyoming in 2019?
I am grateful to be a woman in Wyoming in 2019. Woman are stepping into the spotlight more than ever on the stages of politics, arts, education, conservation, and community. When women engage with the world around them, the ground shifts. I am proud to be a woman in a state that gave women the right to vote in 1869.
SHAWN: Why Wyoming? How does Wyoming feature in your life – not only from a professional standpoint, but as a place to live and play?
I love living in a landscape that keeps the edges wild. My family loves to spend time in the outdoors and having access to public lands allows us beautiful experiences in the natural world. I love that I can drive five miles in any direction and be on a dirt road seeing eagles, hawks, deer, and antelope.
SHAWN: You’ve recorded six studio albums – an incredible feat for any artist. What does it take to be a recording artist from a small mountain town that most folks from Nashville, Los Angeles or New York have probably never heard of?
I’ve moved often in my life and have lived in big cities and small towns. An artist will create art regardless of where they live. I believe that creativity is a lifestyle and not a destination. I decided long ago that I will always write songs and make albums regardless of where I call home. A friend once told me to “Stay out of the results business. It is not your business how someone else takes in your art. It is your business to make it and to make it as honest as you can.” I have tried to do that, and I am proud of the songs I have put into the world. I love living in a small town that supports the arts.
There are many opportunities to be engaged at a ground level in our community. For me, that translates into building an audience for my music on my own terms. Wyoming Public Radio is a wonderful supporter of Wyoming musicians. They play music from Wyoming musicians and welcome live performances on the air whenever bands are traveling through Laramie. I feel lucky to be a Wyoming musician.
SHAWN: Your folksy, cut-to-the-bone storytelling is a beautifully stark departure from the traditional country-western typically associated with our state. How does living in Wyoming inform your sound?
Wyoming feels like home to me. I feel safe to be myself here and that gives me the freedom to be authentic in my creativity. I never set out to write in a certain style, I just try to use my personal writer’s voice. I think folk, Americana, and country music all marry well together. Production in the studio can really change the feeling of a song.
SHAWN: Your latest album, Redwing, released in 2018. You describe the album as a “spiritual breakup.” What do you mean?
I was raised in the Mormon faith tradition. The Mormon faith demands a strict lifestyle to be considered “worthy.” My husband and I left the Mormon church together over six years ago. We have spent the last few years carving out a new life and a new story for our children. The transition was hard and messy, but we are loving our new reality. Moving to Wyoming marked a new chapter in our lives where we could create the life we wanted. My latest album, “Redwing,” is inspired by the wilderness of Wyoming, the space to start over, unmapped question marks, and personal reconstruction.
SHAWN: Central to all your music is the art of storytelling – how did you hone this craft?
I take the art of songwriting seriously. The journey to becoming a songwriter starts with hearing a song that changes you. I wanted to learn how to write songs because I was exposed to great songs growing up. My dad was a record collector and we listened to music all day long. Dylan, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Aretha, Cash, Otis Redding– they all made an impression on my life. I started writing songs in sixth grade because I had a piano teacher encourage me to try. She taught me to play chords and patterns so I could accompany myself. Later in life I received my undergraduate degree in music from Utah State University and worked as a music therapist in Austin, TX. I recorded my first album in 2004 and started regional touring. I attended and later taught at The Song School in Lyons, CO for over twelve years. I regularly co-write with other musicians based out of Salt Lake City, LA, and Nashville.
SHAWN: What’s on the horizon for you in 2019? Are you recording new material? Are you touring in Wyoming?
I graduated from the Sheridan Nursing School in 2018 and currently love working at Sheridan Memorial Hospital. Touring has slowed down the last few years, but I will still play regional shows and a few out of town weekends this year. I plan on continuing to write song and make records. I released a duet lullaby album with one of my favorite songwriters, Edie Carey, in 2014 and we plan on making a second lullaby album soon.
For more on Sarah, visit sarahsample.com
Click here to visit WYLD West: The Podcast about the Icons and Outlaws of Sheridan, Wyo., to hear Sarah’s episode.
Click here for the “Redwing” music video, filmed on location in Sheridan County, Wyoming. “Redwing” written by Sarah Sample & Paul Jacobsen from Redwing Official Music Video directed by Elias Jessop.
Find Sarah’s music on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play, and more.