Sunny Leigh Shipley’s debut album didn’t just fall “Out of the Sky,” it was the culmination of many years of work and health struggles to get the twelve-song effort.
Immediately upon pressing play, each of those twelve songs take the listener on a journey: ranging from being brought back down to Earth, scenes from her native Texas, overcoming relationship struggles, and personal loss. Shipley weaves through each chapter will a smooth, soothing, relatable tone, creating a serious album of the year candidate.
Read along as Shipley details her early success as a songwriter, the bittersweet emotions that came with finally releasing Out of the Sky, the personal stories behind some of the songs on the album, what she hopes listeners take away from it, and more!
Pro Country: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Sunny Leigh Shipley: I have a ton, but the very first people I can remember listening to were guys like Jim Croce and James Taylor, because that’s what my Dad listened to. Then as I got older, I was obsessed with the Dixie Chicks, Deana Carter, Dwight Yoakam, Lee Ann Womack, Dolly Parton…. I also can’t remember too many songs in the 90’s country era that I didn’t like.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
SLS: I look back as far as I can remember and that was always a dream, but once I started finding out that I could write songs, that’s when I realized it was an actual obtainable dream to pursue.
PC: You were a writer on “Oh, Tonight” by the Josh Abbott Band; a song that went to number one in Texas in 2010. What did that success mean to you at that time in your career? Does achieving that milestone give you a certain sense of validation that you are on the right path?
SLS: Josh and I wrote that many years ago in Lubbock, TX, right about the time he was getting started and I was a student at SPC School of Music. Honestly, the day we wrote it, I don’t think either of us thought twice about that song. He called me a few years down the road, when I was writing for a publishing company in Nashville, and told me they were going to cut it. I was excited because they had gained some major traction in the Texas scene, and I was a new writer, so getting a “cut” was a big deal to me. I think back then it gave me a sense of validation that I was on the right track, but it was so long ago that I’m ready to reach new milestones.
PC: You have been successful as a songwriter, but what emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release your own music for the first time with the Out of the Sky album?
SLS: Bittersweet mostly. I had 5 or 6 years of battling some pretty hard health problems, and I didn’t think I’d ever get to release my music because of it. Also so many of these songs are so personal that it’s was a little hard to let them go into the world, as I felt a piece of my soul might go with them, but it’s honestly been so awesome hearing people tell me how a certain song has touched them or helped them put into words something they were feeling. That’s the best part to me.
PC: Many artists say that the order of the tracks on their releases is a critically important factor in releasing music. Why did you decide to slot “Come Back” as the lead track on the album?
SLS: I don’t think there was a whole ton of thought that went into the track order. I relied on some people I trusted musically to direct me in that because I was so attached to the songs that it was so hard for me to be objective. More times than not, people thought “Come Back” would be good lead because it sets the album up; it’s authentic country music, has some humor and is relatable.
PC: “What Goes Up” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that song?]
SLS: Sure! I wrote that one about someone I know, but I won’t ever tell who!! I think we all need this song at some point in our life though. We can all get a little big for our britches, so to speak, and need to be brought down to earth by someone that knows us well. “What Goes Up” will be the first “single” we push to radio, so I’m glad you like it!
PC: “Out of the Sky” is one of the standout tracks on the album. Why did you decide to name the album after that song?
SLS: For many reasons. One is that the whole album kind of came out of the blue. Some of my new friends didn’t even know that I sang! I kind of disappeared musically for some years to heal up from some health problems so I put it aside; although I kept writing. Also, the track “Out of the Sky” is about my upbringing in Rotan, TX and so much of the album is based on stories from there or lessons I learned there. So, naming the album “Out Of the Sky” just felt right.
PC: Would you say that “Don’t Let Me Sink” is one of the most, if not the most, autobiographical songs on “Out of the Sky”? What does that song mean to you?
SLS: My husband and I wrote that together when we were both going through some hard stuff. I think it was just us saying, “Hey, we are really struggling here, but we know where our strength comes from, and we will get through all of this, ”and that’s what we strive to live like every day.
PC: “Betty Jo” is a powerful song on the album, giving vivid details of the death of a loved one and coping with the experience. Was it a cathartic experience to you to be able to put that experience into words and include it on the album?
SLS: Yes, it took me a few years after we lost her to write it, and then even after that, a long time before I could sing it without crying. I think of all the songs, “Betty Jo” is the one I’ve received the most messages about.
PC: On the Out of the Sky album, there are flashes of traditional country, bluegrass, and folk sounds. Was it at all important for you to have a certain level of artistic versatility and show those different sides of yourself on your debut album?
SLS: Absolutely, but I honestly just wanted to be authentic to myself. I wanted people to know who I was and exactly where I came from. I didn’t want to force the music into being anything else because of certain trends in radio play and etc., and it all just happened that way pretty organically. I had a great producer, Sam Seifert, who totally understood what I wanted, and helped bring it all to life.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from the Out of the Sky album after listening all the way through?
SLS: I just want people to feel it and relate to it. I want it to help them cope or bring back good memories or even give them a good cry if they need it.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
SLS: We are working on live shows and promoting a single (“What Goes Up”); maybe some videos in the works too! I am also planning on starting recording a new album later this year. I have several years worth of songs I’m sitting on and itching to get out there!
*All images courtesy of Sunny Leigh Shipley website*