Darby Sparkman’s music is not for casual listening. The depth that the Texas native fearlessly digs into is not made for background noise. No, Sparkman’s music demands (and deserves) a listener’s undivided attention to be truly appreciated. Such was true when she released her debut EP, Slow Songs and Cigarettes, in 2018, and it remains true with her newest EP, The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek.
Cabin, which features no more than a guitar and Sparkman’s vocal throughout its four tracks, is vulnerability at its finest, and at times, most painful. Inspiration for the songs was drawn from mental health struggles and heartbreak, all the while, tracking for the EP was done in just one take. It’s refreshingly bare, as Sparkman’s words and storytelling are firmly at the forefront.
We caught up with Sparkman to talk about the success of Coffee and Cigarettes, each of the songs on Cabin, what she hopes listeners take away from the EP, mental health struggles, her plans for the rest of the year and more!
Pro Country: Your debut EP, Slow Songs and Cigarettes, has earned nearly 40,000 Spotify streams since its release. What kind of validation comes with tangibly seeing that number and the support you received on your debut EP?
Darby Sparkman: It feels really great. I was so young when I released it, and I had no idea what I was doing. It still feels like a dream that someone somewhere even listens to my music or cares to know my art.
PC: It was about two and a half years between the releases of Slow Songs and Cigarettes and your new EP, The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek. What emotions were you feeling leading up to the new EP considering the time in between releases?
DS: I was a nervous wreck. And still am. A lot has changed in streaming since the release of my first record, and navigating that is interesting, especially when you’re doing it all on your own.
PC: You mentioned on social media that “Rainbows,” the first track on The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek, is a special song to you. It’s also a heavy song about living in pain until it subsides. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
DS: I know we have had a hard few years. I’ve been dealing with mental health issues that really stopped my entire world for a while. The idea in my mind when writing this song was, “You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you have to go through it.” I really held onto that feeling when crafting the lyrics.
PC: You sent singer/songwriter Kat Hasty a short demo of “The Ink,” and she encouraged you to keep writing the song and to finish it. What has it meant to you to have the support of Kat, who has earned millions of streams on streaming platforms, and to have a writer of her caliber be a sounding board of sorts for you?
DS: Kat and I have been friends for years; before either of us found any ground in the music industry. We really encourage each other to always keep writing. I am blown away by the success she has found, and I could not be more proud to have someone like her as one of my greatest friends. It’s really nice to have someone to “do” all of this with.
PC: “Hello” is one of our favorite songs on The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek, and continues with the theme of heartache that runs throughout the EP. Was that an intentional theme that you wanted to inject into the EP, or something that happened naturally as the songs came together?
DS: It all just naturally came together. When we [Adam Odor and myself] started sequencing the album and picking songs, heartbreak was just at the forefront.
PC: You’ve said that “The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek” was the first song that you’ve written where you’ve created a character and told a story through them. What was that experience like for you? Was it more difficult to write a song that way?
DS: It was very interesting. I had never sat down and created a character from scratch and then given them a story. It wasn’t necessarily more difficult to write, but I did have to tap into a whole new writing muscle.
PC: You’ve said that The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek was recorded in one take with just yourself and your guitar. Is there a level of vulnerability that comes with recording in such a sparse, bare matter? What drew you to record these songs that way?
DS: It’s the most vulnerable I can possibly get. My first record was borderline acoustic; just myself and Lloyd Maines on an instrument or two. This time, I knew I wanted to keep the minimalism of the first record, but make it even more stripped down. The songs on this EP are really personal to me, and I think they really show my emotions. Keeping it just my guitar and myself, there’s no distractions and nothing to hide behind. It’s raw.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek after listening all the way through?
DS: I hope the songs shine through for what they are. Emotions are not unique. Everyone handles heartbreak, hard times and grief similarly. These songs came from my guts, and I know others are going to feel them.
PC: You’ve been very open on social media about your mental health struggles. From the journey to diagnosing that something wasn’t right to present day, what has been the biggest thing you have learned/taken away along the way?
DS: The only way to get better is to get better. There’s no magic potion, there’s no secret pill, there’s no easy button; it takes a lot of hard work and “want to” to pull yourself out of the valley. I am thankful for great doctors and good medication, but that’s only the first step in the journey. Every day I have to pull myself out of bed and find the drive to keep going. No one can do that for you.
PC: Mental health is at times a taboo subject for many. What is it about yourself that has allowed you to be so open about your struggles?
DS: I come from a very open family. We talk about everything. I think my parents and my older siblings are what has allowed me to be so open. I had to miss work [teaching] for a month. There’s really no way to hide why you’re gone in a small town, so I took the liberty of sharing my story out loud. No hiding, no second guesses, no rumors. I cannot believe the amount of people that have come forward and asked for help or shared a very similar story with me. Being a songwriter, I don’t get the liberty of hiding. My songs are personal and vulnerable, so I am too.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
DS: I want to write and release another EP just like Cabin. I want to record my first full-length record. I have a single coming out July 2nd that’s different from anything I have ever released. I just want to keep going. Starting a career in the music industry can be discouraging by nature, but I’m still here and still going.
*The Cabin at Ghost Gum Creek is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*