Eternal appeal: Sarah Gayle Meech channels Nashville’s traditions

According to CNN, over 30,000 people moved to Nashville last year, which averages out to 82 per day. Of those 82, it seems I meet at least half who have moved here to be a part of the city’s thriving music scene. That’s fantastic for us, because the steady influx of new talent means we always have fresh music to hear. It can be hell on the recent resident, however, when they realize just how deep the Music City talent pool runs. On any given stage, musicians who would be the top player in their former city/state/country are just average Joes trying to make it against very stiff odds. The day job is necessity for all but the most fortunate.

Sarah Gayle Meech moved to Nashville from Los Angeles in 2010 and gravitated toward the intensely competitive Lower Broadway scene. There, artists play in dozens of honky-tonks down the eight-block stretch to the river, surviving on tip jar offerings. You HAVE to be good or you won’t be playing there for long. Sarah has thrived due to a combination of formidable talent, steely determination and classic songwriting skills. Her new album, Tennessee Love Songs, features fifteen self-penned compositions recorded with the cream of the new Nashville session players. We spoke to Sarah about the new album, moving to Nashville and the eternal appeal of traditional country music.

For this album, you wrote all the songs. How long was the writing period for the album?

The majority of the songs came within a year’s time. Last summer, I was hell-bent on writing the songs for this album. There were two songs written in previous years that I included but everything else was fresh off-the-cuff.

When you play Lower Broadway in Nashville, are you able to play original songs?

Yes! I played the entire new album at Robert’s last night. In fact, I played both of my records at Robert’s last night! (laughter)

It can be hard playing original songs for the downtown crowd.

You kind of feel it out. I always play my originals, regardless, but I’ll pepper in the cover songs because you’re on stage for 3 1/2 hours. I don’t have 3 1/2 hours worth of original material and I don’t know who does– Bruce Springsteen? The Rolling Stones? (laughter) I put in songs by my favorite artists like Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Patsy Cline. We’re down there working for money (Ed. note: TIPS!) and if someone says, “Here’s twenty bucks, play Willie Nelson,” we’re going to play it!

The caliber of musicians in clubs like Robert’s is incredible.

I know! I just saw Chuck Mead on stage with Brazilbilly at Robert’s and Chris Scruggs was on steel guitar. I thought, “Damn, that’s a supergroup!”

You’ve been in Nashville since 2010. What made you pack up and move here from L.A.?

Well, I was playing country out there and I realized that if I wanted to take what I was doing to the next level, I really needed to learn. I wouldn’t say I was a novice but at that point I could barely tune my guitar. I wasn’t a good player and I need to sharpen my singing and performing skills, so I knew I needed to come here. I had been here before and saw what was going on. I just fell in love with it, the music history and the level of musicianship here, all the great songwriters. I knew I had to come to Nashville if I was going to make music my life.

What brought you to country music?

It’s always been in my soul and a part of my life. I grew up in a small logging town in Washington State called Longview. It’s a pretty redneck town. There’s not much up there except hunting, fishing and mill jobs. It’s a port town as well with some fishing industry represented. It’s kind of a depressed area, I think partially because of the weather. It’s dark and rains all the time, especially in the area I’m from which is called the Southwest Lower Columbia Basin. It gets more rainfall per year than any other part of Washington.

Growing up there, everyone listened to country music. It’s a good, old-fashioned hard-working vibe up there. When I was growing up, Garth Brooks was huge. My dad is a Oklahoma native and he always played his country records when we were kids. I went through all my phases, from a teenager to my early twenties: metal, hip-hop, punk rock. I still listen to all that stuff but country resonated the strongest for me, I always felt the closest to it.

Who were your favorite country artists growing up?

The Everly Brothers, Johnny Horton, Hank Williams—my dad had those records and he played them all the time. He was a huge Hank, Jr. fan, too. There was ALWAYS Hank, Jr. on! (laughs) Every time I hear someone play those songs, I’m right back, five years old, listening to my dad’s records. He had a bunch of cool stuff like Elvis, Chuck Berry, and rock and roll records, too. He listened to a lot of Alabama. This was the ‘80s, so Alabama was constantly on the record player or the 8-track player! (hearty laughter) There are some early Alabama songs, like “Love in the First Degree,” “Feels So Right,” and “Take Me Down” that I really love. It takes me right back to when I first heard it.

Almost all of those records were recorded in Nashville, which brings us back to your new album, Tennessee Love Song. You have some fantastic players on it, like Dave Roe and Chris Scruggs. How did you get them involved?

Well, I know all those guys and several of them were on my first record, One Good Thing. My regular live band is on the record, too. I made the record with (producer) Andy Gibson, who has been steel guitarist and dobro picker for Hank Williams III for may years. He has a home studio in East Nashville and when I made my first record, he picked most of the players. I didn’t know Dave Roe or Jerry Roe at the time so Andy called them. Like Billy Contreras on fiddle, Andy works with him regularly, so he got him to play on the album. I thought, “Wow, these people are amazing!” They made my first record sound great so when it came time to record Tennessee Love Song, I said I want those guys back and I want to include my band.

I love the credit for “The Billy Contreras Fiddle Orchestra.”

Oh, yes! Those string parts were all done by him, overdubbing one fiddle at a time. He is just a genius.

I love Billy’s story because he was the protegé of (lauded Nashville session musician) Buddy Spicher. Billy is now carrying Buddy’s legacy forward.

Yes, you can hear Buddy’s influence throughout Tennessee Love Song. Speaking of Spichers, we’ve got (Buddy’s son) David Spicher on there, too, so we’re keeping it in the family!

For good or bad, Nashville is all about tradition. I tell people when they move here to break into the country scene to be prepared for a climb. Nashville gets very upset when they perceive someone is trying to “cut in line.”

Yeah, you’ve got to pay your dues. I know it’s been happening for a while, but it seems in the last three or four years, Nashville is really becoming a melting pot for different musical styles. So many bands are landing here, making it very culturally rich.

Regarding tradition, that’s one of the things that drew me to this town. I love the history of the players and artists who went before and made Nashville what it is today. I don’t call myself a traditionalist but I definitely respect tradition and I do my best to give a little bit back to it.

The street date for Tennessee Love Song was March 31st with the LP following in mid-to-late April. I understand that Gotta Groove is pressing the LP, correct?

Yes! This is my first time pressing vinyl and it was a very interesting experience. I learned a lot and I’m very excited! After I ordered my records, I was sitting with my husband at home, watching the show How It’s Made, and they were in a record pressing plant. They were cutting lacquers, showing the whole manufacturing process, and it was fucking fascinating! It was so cool. I would love to tour a record plant.

Speaking of tours, how much do you tour?

Not as much as I should. Last year, I didn’t tour very much because I was saving up to make the album. This year, I am more focused on touring and I’ll be playing my first European dates: Sweden, France, and, hopefully, the UK. I’m doing all my own tour booking right now which is really a full-time job. It’s a lot of work and lot of effort, especially if you want to do 200+ dates a year. It’s beyond my capacity at this point, so until I get someone to help with the booking, I’ll probably be out around 100 dates this year.

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