Sara Evans splashed onto the country music scene when legendary artists like Reba McEntire, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, the Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride dominated the radio airwaves. You’d be hardpressed not to find Evans’ name on your favorite record store shelves, before digital became the new normal, among the women who brought female empowering country songs into the lives of many young and not-so-young girls. Country music was chalk full of influential females commanding attention on the Top 40 charts up until the early 2000s when a frustrating trend in the genre, known as “bro country,” began to take shape. “This bro country trend has lasted a really long time, like eight or nine years. The slots have lessened and lessened for female artists because of that,” Evans says. “Right now there are only two women in the top 40. That means there are 38 men being played on heavy rotation. And a lot of those songs are about the same thing.”
Evans’ interest in music was cultivated early on in life – her brothers began taking guitar lessons when she was four, and she would sing along as they practiced. “My parents realized we all had this gift for music – they were big country music fans. My mom started booking us gigs around the area I grew up in, in central Missouri. I don’t remember a time not being a singer or being on stage.” Planting her feet in country music was natural for Evans because of her small midwestern town upbringing, where artists like Patty Loveless and Tanya Tucker were the usual voices you’d hear from a diner’s stereo. Studying every Top 40 song by a female artist she could get her hands on, Evans began her career as a six-year-old cover band artist playing in the local bars. Her favorite artist to cover? “Anything by Reba McEntire. Reba was my all time idol,” she says. Reba might have had her little songwriting heart, but even at a young age, Evans knew how to branch out and attract a wider audience “I remember we covered some Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, because you have to play what’s popular.”
Evans pursued her dream with a vengeance – making her future a priority by solidifying a plan early on in her career, “The plan was I would graduate high school, move to Nashville, and do anything I could to make connections. I moved to Nashville with my brother Matt, who plays bass in my band and is our musical director, and eventually we signed a record deal with RCA,” she says. Her tenure with RCA would prove to be fruitful – Evans released 7 studio albums, which included hit singles “Suds in the Bucket,” “A Real Fine Place to Start,” “No Place That Far,” “A Little Bit Stronger,” and “Born to Fly,” and a Christmas album under the major studio label. After fulfilling her initial contract with the label, Evans was undecided on where to take her eighth studio album, Words. “Did we want to shop another big label? Did we want to sign again with RCA? Or go with an independent label? With the current trends in country music right now, it didn’t make sense to go to country radio with this next project. It’s a major undertaking, it really takes over your life when you’re promoting a single. You have to travel all over the country and visit as many stations as you can. You have to do shows for them and it just wasn’t something I was willing to do at this point in my life,” she explained. Eventually, someone close to Evans suggested that she should start her own label. Evans took the suggestion to heart and quickly launched Born to Fly, her own record label where Words would come to life. Words features 14 female songwriters, including Evans, which happened totally by chance, “When I’m sent songs I don’t like to know anything about the writer. I just want to turn it on and experience it. When we wrapped up, Tracy Gershon, who was A&R on the project, said to me, “You realize there are 14 female writers including yourself on this record?” I just thought that was amazing, because there are so many incredible female writers. I feel like it made this more legit. I didn’t hand pick female writers, it just happened that way,” she says. An album consisting of sole female writers, especially at the tune of 14, is something extremely rare in the music industry and is a feat Evans should be proud to have accomplished.
Evans’ writing process for Words was very involved, because of her large family – she has three kids, while her husband has four children from a previous marriage – she usually prefers to have writers come to Birmingham to write with her. However, two of the writers she really wanted to collaborate with could not make the trip, so she decided to go to them instead. During their session, they began to bounce ideas off one another, “One of them had this idea of ‘Marquee Sign.’ That happens a lot with writers, and I think female writers especially. They’ll be like, ‘I just keep hearing ‘marquee sign,’ and I don’t know what that means. Does that resonate with you?’” “So we wrote it, and when I was headed back home, they stayed behind and made this demo,” Evans says. Eventually, “Marquee Sign” became a family undertaking. “At the end of the demo, there were these really cool ‘oh’s’ and ‘ooo’s.’ When an album is finished I always like to go over a check list and make sure everything has what it needs. So once this album was done, we realized we forgot the ‘oh’s’ at the end of ‘Marquee Sign.’” That day, I wasn’t feeling well and my daughter, Olivia, was with me – she’s a great singer, so I told her to run into the booth and put them in there. Everyone was there, the engineer, the producer – I think she felt like I was putting her on the spot. I kept telling her to just go, get in there, because I was tired and I wanted to go home. I told her ‘just sing how you sing.’ She’s so creative. We didn’t have to fix anything on it; it’s on there exactly how she did it.” Evans hopes her children follow her footsteps into music, the thought does not generate any fear or worry for the Alabama based mother. “It would scare me if they wanted to have a normal life. I wouldn’t know how to relate to that,” she says. Evans does not feel motherhood has changed the way she writes as an artist; she has been able to separate motherhood from her career as a country artist, “The two are very separate to me. I think I would still be recording the same music I am right now, if I didn’t have children. The only thing I can think of is that having kids gives you a lot of confidence and teaches you to be selfless. Lyrically, maybe I think about what I say. I don’t want to sing anything that would be a bad example for my children.”
Read Sara’s full length cover story in our Fall issue, available now at all Barnes & Noble locations, or for purchase on our website.