When describing Sara Morgan, the word “average” stops at the album title. Underneath that cover lies 11 tracks describing extraordinary tales of love, love lost, and the lives of not-so-average people.
“Average Jane,” Sara’s first full-length album, captures the attention from the opening vocal lines of “The Boots,” and keeps it gripped until the ending notes of “Average Jane.” Featuring songs filled with steel guitar, the album is a breath of fresh, yet familiar air for the traditional country music fan.
Hear from Sara about her wide array of influences, the stories behind some of the standout tracks on “Average Jane,” having the chance to meet Loretta Lynn, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Sara Morgan: My favorite band and CD in the world is Boston, and their debut record, and I will stand by that until the day I die! It’s a sentimental thing. My dad and I took this vacation to Florida in an old Ford Ranger, and that was the tape we had in. They really influenced a lot of my stuff; especially on “Average Jane;” all those twin guitar lines, and I definitely stole some vocals from Brad Delp.
Then, there was Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks; all of those 90s country artists were huge influences on me. Elton John was another one. The first CD I ever got was the remake of “Candle in the Wind” from Princess Diana.
Lastly, I love Diane Warren’s songwriting. I didn’t realize that I was listening to Diane Warren songs when I was listening to people like Toni Braxton and Céline Dion, but I was, and when I looked it up, I was surprised that the same person was writing all of these huge ballads, which is where I think my strong suit is as a writer most of the time.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
SM: Not really. I just wanted to be a songwriter; I was writing for fun. I went to college, I had a good job, and I was just writing songs for fun. Somebody asked me one time, “When are we going to record this?” I had a friend who had a studio in his place, and instead of telling me I sucked, he said we should go record the songs.
I ended up getting a few cuts in Nashville from that very first thing I put out, which was put out just for fun. I had written them alone, so people were interested in what I was doing. As I kept going, people were telling me that if I wanted people to hear my songs, I had to go play them. I started playing shows, and people started showing up! I realized that I could actually make money singing in front of people for an hour. I was doing that for a while, but still trying to plug songs.
I had some people come along who really liked what I was doing, and said that I should do it, because they thought I really could. Slowly but surely over the last year and a half to two years, I’ve grown into being the artist and doing it for a living.
PC: “Never Been to Nashville” has become one of your signature songs. Can you talk about the story behind it?
SM: I wrote it and put it on the first thing I ever did. It was branded as a country album, which it really wasn’t, it was a pop/adult/alternative album; I don’t know what it was (laughs). I didn’t know who I was at the time. I said I had never been to Nashville, and the guy I was working with said that I should write that, and I brought that song back the next day, and he laughed at it! It wasn’t a middle finger at anything at all, it came from the purest place in my heart. I don’t think that song has had its life yet, just based on what happens when I go sing it live. It hasn’t been until the last six to eight months that I started working in Nashville.
PC: “That Kind of Man” is one of my favorite songs on “Average Jane.” Can you talk a little about the inspiration behind that song and why you decided to record it acoustically?
SM: Honestly, that was about a friend of mine who left a relationship that wasn’t right for them, and I was really proud of their choice to do that. And I’ve done that too, where I had to make the decision that a relationship wasn’t right.
I don’t really know why I cut it acoustically. We went in, did one take, and I just went, “I’m done, I don’t want to do anything else to it,” probably (laughs).
PC: “Sick of Sayin’ Goodbye” is another really powerful acoustic song on the album, and is the most rustic sounding track on it. Was that song presented that way intentionally?
SM: That one was fairly intentional. It’s not so much about saying goodbye or being sad about it, it’s about that really awkward moment that happens over and over again with people that you care about, where you kind of have to say, ‘See you later,” and it’s just weird. I can deal with the aftermath, I can deal with the beforehand, but that awkward moment when you don’t know what to say, even with the people you know the best, it just becomes really repetitive, almost like a broken record, which is why I put that sound on there. It implies that it kind of just becomes a broken record, and I’m so sick and tired of doing it. I recorded it by myself at my house. I just wanted it to be done in my home, where I was talking about all these things. I thought it would make it more authentic. You can hear the coffee pot clicking on and off in the background, and I liked that! I wanted to leave that in there, not because I didn’t want it to sound professional or slick enough, but this isn’t a radio single, this is a deep cut (laughs). I wanted it to be a little more “real.”
PC: “Instead of Drinkin’” has become a fan-favorite from the “Average Jane” album. What do you think it is about that song that has struck a chord with people the way it has?
SM: I’m not really sure. We didn’t expect that either. After we cut it, we all said, “Wow, that’s pretty cool!” I wrote that, but you can sometimes hear my songwriting for other people coming through. There were some things that I was dealing with that I pulled from to write that song, but I wrote it for a guy, because that is who is primarily on the radio. When I was playing it, people were coming up to me; and it was mostly men, and they would say, “That’s my life.” They didn’t care that it was a girl singing it.
It’s kind of like a soul/rock tune, with some of that Allman Brothers and Boston kind of guitars, but I really don’t know why it’s connected with people. I think it’s about something that matters, which is your family. Your family matters more than wasting life on a good time, that really isn’t a good time anyway.
PC: There are hints of a few different sounds on the “Average Jane” album, ranging from soul to bluegrass to blues, all with the major underlying theme of traditional country throughout. Was it at all important for you to show that level or artistic versatility on the album?
SM: It wasn’t at all, I just write songs all day. I pretty much write songs 24/7. If I’m alone for an hour, I can get something finished, but I’m hardly ever alone anymore! (laughs). The theme of the album lyrically is why I chose the songs that I chose. The songs just ended up the way they ended up. I was worried more about the lyrical theme, which was that I’m tired of the word “average.” We’ve heard that word so much over the last three years in America, and I’m just so sick of it. None of us are average. We get up and we continue moving forward. It’s difficult, but we do it. There are things about the lives of the “average American” that people consider average, and I think those are extraordinary people. The lyrical aspect and that making sense was more important to me than the musical aspect; we just let the songs end up being what they were.
PC: What do you hope people take away from the “Average Jane” album after listening all the way through?
SM: I set myself up for one of two things. People can listen to this album and say, “Average Jane, that’s about right,” or they can say, “That’s not average at all!” I hope at this point, my songs don’t come across as average, I hope the lyrics are snappy and the hooks are melodic, and song structure is very important to me. The point is, average isn’t average at all, despite what it may look like on the outside. That was my point with the album. Being a blonde-headed, tall girl, I pretty much get underestimated everywhere I go. I know what I’m doing! (laughs).
PC: You have played with or opened for many major artists, including Loretta Lynn, Sara Evans, and John Michael Montgomery, among others. What can you take away from those experiences that helps you in your career?
SM: I have to be honest, I did a pre-show act for Loretta Lynn. I’m glad that I didn’t technically do the opening act. Because I did the pre-show act, I was in the room next door playing for everybody, Loretta’s son, Ernie, came in, and he came in and said, “Do you want to go meet my mama?” I just said, “Of course!” He asked where I wanted to meet her; on her bus, in the green room, or somewhere else. I said, “Whatever the queen wants. You tell me what to do, and I’ll go there.” About 20 minutes before her show started, he found me, and said that she said to come on the bus. So I got on Loretta Lynn’s tour bus, and sat across from her, and we just talked. This was 20 minutes before her show, and she just said, “Sit down, let’s have a conversation!” She didn’t need to prep for her show. She has said in interviews, “I’m just going to go out and sing.” And I really took that to heart. That’s what I do; I talk to somebody until the very last second. I opened for the Randy Rogers Band this week, and I was talking to one of the stage hands until I went on.
I think the thing that I took away from an experience like that is that she is hands down the nicest person act that I have met so far. I’ve met a lot of people who just think they’re super cool. When I met her, I just thought that she is a gifted songwriter; just gifted. But the reason she has stuck like glue to country music and to generations of people coming up is who she is as a human being. She’s just the kindest, most humble person you could ever meet. I took a picture with her, and right as they were about to take the picture, she put her hand on my hand, and I just went, “Oh my God! I can’t handle this!” (laughs).
It was after meeting her that I told myself that I want people to respect me as a songwriter and as an artist, but at the end of the day, I want people to think that I’m nice and that I’m easy to work with and easy-going. I don’t want people to think I’m a diva or anything like that. This whole thing is for fun. It’s a business, but if you’re not enjoying it and treating people well while you’re doing it, then you might as well just quit.
Another thing is that she always had something to say. And I thought that if I don’t always have something to say, I might as well put the megaphone down. What’s the point?
PC: It’s been more than five years since you released the original version of “Never Been to Nashville.” Where do you sense that you’ve grown the most since that time?
SM: I’ve definitely grown as a songwriter. I didn’t know what I was doing when I wrote that; I didn’t realize what kind of hook that was. As long as it takes to listen to that song, that’s how long it took to write it. I just hit record and said some things over the melody, and that’s exactly what came out. When people started to respond to it, I thought that I needed to dive a little more into this and figure out what it was that I did. I started learning about hook and melodies and bridges and things like that, and intentionally writing lines. Everybody says that there should be one tattoo line in every song. I want every line to be a tattoo line. If every line isn’t, that’s a waste.
I’ve grown as a vocalist as well. I never wanted to be a singer, but I’ve grown there.
I think I’ve grown the most as a person. I had times after I wrote that I was extremely insecure, fought hardcore comparing myself to other people issues. Things like, “Why them? Why not me?” When you’re asking those questions, your ego needs to die. You’re never going to get anywhere is that’s the attitude you have. I’m just really lucky to have people around me to disarmingly say not to do that, that it will hinder my growth, not only in the industry, but as a human.
PC: What are your plans for 2019?
SM: I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but I just cut my first project in Nashville! Being cryptic is best at the moment! (laughs)
PC: Is there anything else you wanted to include?
SM: I’m from southeast Arkansas, and that is my entire viewpoint. That’s the lens I view the world through. However, the small-town lens that I view things from is a bit different than most small towns in the south get. We were all very different there, but everyone went to school together and worked together. I enjoyed that. My parents worked really hard. I think I’m working against a time period where a lot of small town, working class people have a bad rap. Maybe that’s just me taking things personally, and that’s a total possibility.
I grew up in a small town, but I spent 50% of my life in a city as well. I just want everyone to realize the worth of both sides of what’s going on. I don’t really talk about current events; I talk about current events indirectly in my music. They’re there, but they’re very indirect. I think that people on both sides of the whole urban/rural thing all offer something that the other one needs and uses daily.