Music Mecca Interview: Country Singer-Songwriter Sarah McCulloch
NATALIE WICKS | FEBRUARY 4, 2022 | MUSIC MECCA
With a new song dropping today, February 4th, Sunshine State native Sarah McCulloch is getting the wheels in motion to release her sophomore album, Sawmiller’s Daughter.
The first single off of the album, “Honey to a Bear,” boasts the songwriter’s sweet country and Americana-roots sound, and was inspired by a love interest, specifically a particular comment that resonated with her, and sparked the creation of the song.
McCulloch introduced herself to the world on her debut album, Strawberry Moon, which was released in 2018, and garnered sparkling reviews far and wide. The album was nominated for Country Album of the Year at the Independent Music Awards, making McCulloch the only woman nominated in that category.
As a dedicated songwriter, musician, and mother, her creativity and drive knows no bounds, and “Honey to a Bear” along with the upcoming album Sawmiller’s Daughter is a testament to this.
We got the chance to chat with McCulloch to discuss “Honey to a Bear,” her Florida roots, and much more.
How would you describe your sound and style to someone who is wondering what Sarah McCulloch is all about?
I like to think of my music as vintage Americana. The production is certainly traditional Country but the lyrics cross over into Folk, Country-Rock and even Country-Pop. The themes are timeless: love, longing, and nostalgia for a simpler time. I want my music to make you want to sing, dance and remember good times.
What led you to pick “Honey to a Bear” as the first single from your upcoming sophomore album?
“Honey to a Bear” is a happy, romantic and very unique song. It was a lot of fun to write, sing and record and seems to bring a smile to everyone’s face. It has traditional instruments on it i.e. fiddle, banjo, but is kinda folksy with the harmonica thrown in there. The lyrics appeal to a broad audience, from young children to adults, and the symbols of honey and bears are just too cute to pass up for top spot. I wanted this song to get it’s due attention because I think it deserves some honey for itself!
Do you have a favorite lyric from “Honey to a Bear”?
I giggle whenever I sing, “I shoved her and I gloved her, didn’t hug her, no, I don’t share.” It just cracks me up thinking of all the country girls I have known who are tender on the inside but tough as nails on the outside. And they are loyal when it comes to their man… Hands off! I may or may not have seen a real bar scene like that in my lifetime…
Which track on Sawmiller’s Daughter might you be most excited for listeners to hear and why ?
I’m getting a lot of positive feedback on “Free Spirit Love Song.” I started singing the melody and hummed gibberish until I could get the right words to fit, and the final product is very timeless and soulful. It just flows as the free spirit that it is. The fiddle cuts right to your soul and pairs with the lyrics so beautifully. When it came time to give that song a title, I couldn’t come up with anything from the lyrics that did it justice. So the essence of the song is a free spirit itself, you can’t put it in a box.
When you were writing the music for your album, did you have a specific theme or sound you wanted your songs to fit? Or is there another way that you decide what songs are right for your album?
My producer, Jim Bickerstaff, helped me cull my songs from about 30 down to the 11 originals that were selected for the album. I had a lot of songs written and kept writing during the COVID-19 shutdown, to the point that there were almost too many. I was on a creative roll! Jim was a master at picking the best songs and we agreed on most of them. We focused on the songs with the most heartfelt themes and transcendent lyrics. Songs about home and family. Songs about love and loss. I had recently divorced but was determined to make the album as upbeat as possible. I wanted songs that I would want to listen to on the weekends when I’m cleaning my apartment, working out, cruising with the windows down, etc… Songs for everyday life that take people out of their everyday life. I hope we did that.
What does your songwriting process normally look like?
It sure is a mystery how it gets to the paper from the ethers. Most of the time I get the lyrics first and try to work it out on the guitar. I’ll get a good hook or rhymey fragment that I really like and work around it until it’s an actual song. It starts with a chorus sometimes and other times it starts with a verse. Sometimes I just hum gibberish until I get the right kind of lyric syncopation that is easy to sing and remember. I think that’s so important in songwriting. Writing words that are easy to sing and remember. Who wants to think really hard when you’re on stage performing? Performing is hard enough. The listener wants something they can just sing along with.
The great, great songs all have this in common: Easy to sing… Easy to remember… Falling off your tongue… Painting a picture. Every once in a while I pick up the guitar and a nice chord progression comes out that is worth writing lyrics for, but most of the time the lyrics come first.
What was your biggest draw back to your southern roots after being in New York for over 10 years?
We all just want to go home sometimes. And I had wanted to go home for a long, long time. I missed the warm weather and my family the most, but I also missed the colorful characters that I had grown up with. I was raised by hippies in the Everglades, surrounded by country folk, cowboys and Seminole Indians. The area has a rich songwriting tradition for obvious reasons. And the coasts are filled with all walks of life. You can find inspiration just sitting on the beach and believe me I have. I miss Western New York’s live music scene. The artist community there is unbelievable and much less transient than Florida. But Florida’s always going to be home to me. It’s where I belong.
What artists or groups have been the biggest inspiration to you in creating your music?
Well, I just love Lee Ann Womack. She is a class act all the way. I saw her in concert a few years back and she’s a phenomenal live performer. Her last two albums have been incredible, excellent songs and production. I dream of her recording one of my songs someday. I think she’s the most soulful country singer, male or female, since George Jones. Can’t say enough about her.
The Trio: Dolly, Linda and Emmylou are my very own holy trinity. I hope to have just an ounce of the integrity any of those three beautiful women have had in their careers. I love Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. And Brent Cobb. Just love his songs and his cousin Dave’s production of them. My son and I know all Brent’s songs. We spent a lot of time in the car when we were moving and he was our soundtrack. His style of laid back syncopated southern cool has had us car-dancing on many occasions.
If you could work with anyone in creating music, whether writing, producing or performing, who would it be and why?
As I mentioned, of course I would love for Lee Ann Womack to record one of my songs. I would love to co-write with Brent Cobb. I would love to sing a duet with Chris Stapleton, but I think his wife’s got that covered. I would also love to cut another record with Jim Bickerstaff ’cause he makes great albums and great shrimp. 🙂
What might you have in store post-album release? Any touring or regional gigs lined up?
Jim and I are already talking about our next project. We have some great songs left over and I’m always writing. I know I can write even better songs. Especially when I see what Jim can do with them in the studio. I do not have any plans to tour but will play shows in and around South Florida over the coming months.