In a time where we are seeing more and more British artists hit the big time Sasha McVeigh is doing it all by herself. About to head out on the Mind The Gap tour with co-headliner, and friend of Zac Brown, Sonia Leigh, Sasha is beginning to make waves on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s hard to believe that under her own steam Sasha has found herself playing music in Nashville and opening for acts as big as Hunter Hayes and Cole Swindell. This year she made a huge impression at Country 2 Country in London and is due to release her debut album through her own crowd fund, the aptly titled I Stand
Alone. Before Sasha and Sonia head out on the Mind The Gap UK and Ireland tour we caught up with them both – this is what Sasha had to say.
When did you first become interested in country music?
My Dad has always been a big country music fan, so when I was little he would play the cassette tapes and we’d watch CMT together, so I was indoctrinated at a young age (laughs). When I started writing songs at 12, they just came out country. I feel I have a strong connection with the genre, in that when I listen to country songs, I really feel what the artist is singing. They’re such relatable songs and very honest. It’s definitely the genre for me!
You took a slightly different route to success when compared to some English acts in that you had initial success in Nashville, how did this come about?
I went to Nashville in July 2012, after finishing at Sixth Form College. I had a deal with my parents that in order for them to help me with my music, I had to do well at my exams and get that grounding. So when I came back with my results, my Mum said “You want to be a country singer, we need to get you to Nashville!”. Our attitude was if I was accepted by Nashville, then we were doing something right. We sent off my music to the venues there and what we had originally planned would be a handful of shows, turned into me performing every day and being asked to go back. It was unbelievable!
What does it feel like for an English act playing country music in the heart of America?
It feels amazing, there aren’t even words to describe it. Going into this, that was my biggest worry, that Americans wouldn’t like the idea of a British girl singing country music because it is considered to be an American genre. But they really took to me and I’m so thankful for that. I do have to pinch myself sometimes because it seems like a dream.
Have you found Nashville to be a welcoming place and community of musicians/singers?
Definitely! I mean with every career there will always be snakes in the grass but for the most part everyone is very welcoming and super supportive. It’s a wonderful place for musicians, songwriters and singers to go to learn and hone their craft. For me, those first trips were like going to The University of Music, it was a priceless experience. You learn something new every time you go to Nashville and of course it’s an amazing place to record.
You’ve shared the bill with some amazing acts in your time including Hunter Hayes and David Nail, how was that feeling?
AWESOME!!! Woah, even now I have to check the photos to make sure I didn’t imagine the whole thing. I got the opportunity to perform at The Academy of Country Music Kick-Off Concert last April with Hunter Hayes, David Nail and Cole Swindell because Bob Romeo saw me performing, it was an indescribable feeling to have someone like him believe it me like that. Then last summer I was on the main stage at Country Jam USA the same day Luke Bryan headlined, he even gave me a shout out, it was so surreal. I just feel very thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, it’s impossible to put it into words.
Did you get to spend any time with the acts?
I’ve managed to spend some time with Lindsay Ell (who I recently toured with), Dustin Lynch, Jerrod Niemann, Lee Brice, Sonia Leigh, Leah Turner, Charlie Worsham, Florida Georgia Line and Chris Young. They’re all very, very sweet. At festivals, all the artists just congregate backstage, it’s a little intimidating at first when Charles Kelley from Lady Antebellum just nonchalantly walks by you to get chicken wings from the buffet or whatever. But we’re all just normal people so there’s no weirdness or anything. The other thing that’s great about festivals is getting to meet the bands and crew of each artist. One year, I literally was at all the same festivals and events as Jake Owen so I got to know his band and crew really well, they’re all such jokesters, it’s awesome.
You’re about to embark on a UK tour with Sonia Leigh, how did you get to know Sonia?
It’s a funny story actually. We had been talking on Twitter for a while because we have a mutual friend in Atlanta. But whenever I’d be in Nashville, Sonia would be in the UK and vice versa, then finally in January it clicked and we were able to meet up. That’s when we found out we were both performing at C2C, on the same day and same stage. I had already been planning on doing a tour and we got on so well that it made sense to do it together, especially with everything Sonia is doing over here with her single, ‘When We Are Alone’. I can’t wait, it’s going to be a great adventure!
It must be a great feeling headlining your own UK tour with someone so well established and respected in Nashville like Sonia…
It’s pretty crazy, I still can’t believe Sonia wanted to be a part of this tour. We’re actually co-headlining, so we’ll each headline 6 dates. Sonia is a fantastic artists, I’m hoping I learn a lot from her and soak up some of her songwriting skills!
You recently played at the Country 2 Country festival in London, how was that?
C2C was incredible, I can hardly even put into words how much fun I had. When I played in The Saloon on Sunday, they had to close the doors because it was so full. It was amazing to have so many people wanting to come and see me perform when there were other artists playing at the same time as me. I think it’s a wonderful festival, that’s doing an unbeatable job at promoting country music in the UK.
Do you feel the benefit of the rise in popularity of country in the UK?
It’s made a huge difference. When I started this in 2012, it was near impossible to tour as an unknown country artist in the UK. Venues would pull a face when I’d say I was country, which is another reason I started off in the US because there were more opportunities to get my career started. But now here I am, actually able to do a 12 date tour. I think a lot of that is down to C2C, they’ve managed to alter people’s perception of country music and prove it’s a valid genre with a massive amount of depth. When I was in High School, my friends would laugh and make jokes about my love of country, they’d say it was cheesy but now they can at least see my reasons for loving it.
Other British acts like The Shires and Ward Thomas are following your footsteps in America now, do you all keep in touch?
I’ve actually only ever met Ben and Crissie once at Yeehaw UK last year and I think my friend request is still pending on Facebook from that day, but they probably have way more on their mind than accepting Facebook friends. I’ve met Lizzy and Catherine Ward-Thomas a few times and we’ve spoken on social media, they’re very down to earth which is great. I think everyone is always so busy so it’s hard to stay in touch properly, but we’re all part of the same community and it’s wonderful to watch each others successes because at the end of the day, it takes multiple artists to cement a genre. Just look at the US market, there are something like 50 established artists just from the state of Georgia. It’s all about sticking together and building each other up, that’s important for any genre to succeed.
With a festival like Country 2 Country do you think it is opening some eyes in Nashville as to the demand for country over here?
I certainly think that’s true because more of the US acts are starting to tour over here which is brilliant. I think it all has to happen in baby steps because you’ve got artists like Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley who are able to tour in the US and fill 40,000 seat stadiums, but if they come here then they’d have to play to a max of about 5,000 (maybe more), established artists like that are going to be harder to get over here unless they play something like C2C festival where the numbers will equal those in the US. For newer artists or less established ones though I think it’s a goldmine to come over here and build a fanbase which is what Taylor Swift did and so has Kacey Musgraves in recent times. Kacey is now able to come here and sell out which is huge, which proves how big of a demand there is!
Your debut album I Stand Alone is due out soon, where did you record the majority of that?
It was all recorded in Nashville with the same producer and engineer who did my acoustic EP. The whole project was actually funded via Kickstarter, it was a great feeling knowing my fans had that level of involvement. What’s crazy is all the musicians who played on the album are either Grammy-nominated, ACM-nominated or winners of either award, they’ve played on Luke Bryan’s latest album, stuff for Willie Nelson, all sorts. It was definitely overwhelming being in the studio and hearing them play on my songs.
Are they songs you’ve had for years or have you been writing specifically for the album?
There’s a bit of a mix. I’m not a big fan of the whole “I’m writing songs now for my album” thing, I prefer to just write and then be able to pick and choose. Three of the songs were written during the first trip to record, last November, so I guess you could say those were written for the album. What’s funny is ‘Someone To Break My Heart’ almost didn’t make it onto the album. I wrote it in about 30 mins, just for fun and I wouldn’t even play it to my Mum because I thought it was really bad (laughs) but then my producer heard it (and eventually so did Mum) and they were both like “This has to go on the album!”. But the other songs are one’s I wrote previously, I actually wrote ‘I Stand Alone’ when I was 14 years-old. It’s definitely a story of my life so far.
Who are your biggest influences in music?
I think I’ve been influenced by a lot of different genres and artists because my parents both liked different musical styles. My Dad was the country music, Cat Stevens, The Beatles and Tina Turner, whereas Mum loves Motown, Simon & Garfunkel and The Rolling Stones. I think all of those artists and genres have had an influence on my music, as well as Elvis Presley who I’ve loved since I was 7 years-old and artists like Zac Brown Band and of course Taylor Swift. With my writing, I’ve always written from real life experiences. My songs have always been like little diary entries that were meant to be sung, I thought that was strange because other artists weren’t really doing that, then Taylor came along and proved how far that honesty gets you with the fans.
Have there been any acts who have lent you advice and support during your early years?
I got the chance to talk to Jerrod Niemann a few times and he gave me a lot of great advice about staying true to who I am and things like that. Lindsay Ell has also been wonderful, having me on her European tour and she wrote me this super sweet card at the end of it telling me to never give up and to always believe in myself. Stuff like that is wonderful to hear from artists like that because those are the people I look up to.
The Shires recently scored a first top 10 album for a UK country act, that must provide so much encouragement to you?
It certainly does, it shows the fans are out there, you just have to work on finding them, especially artists like me who are unsigned and independent, I mean it would be awesome if I scored a top 10 or even top 20 chart position but I’m not going to cry if it doesn’t happen cause that would be unrealistic as I’m not signed to a label. Everything I’ve done so far has been achieved primarily by myself and my parents and I’m extremely proud of that. A lot of it has happened organically which is amazing and I’m happy with the path I’m on right now. If I can get to a level where I’m able to tour extensively and just make music, that’s my goal here. The moment it stops being about the music is the moment you have to stop and evaluate what you’re doing, or that at least how I feel.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
Obviously I have the UK and Ireland tour in April and my album, ‘I Stand Alone’, is being released in May – it’s currently up for pre-order on iTunes and GooglePlay. Also in May I’ll be performing at festivals including a slot at the Hay Festival which is a huge deal for me because it’s a local festival, one I’ve been going to since I was little, so it’s fantastic to get to perform there. Then in the summer I’m back off to the US. It’s all very exciting and I just can’t wait for what this year has to hold!
Tickets are still available for the Mind The Gap Tour (dates below). I Stand Alone is due for release on 25th May – review coming to this site soon!