Sarah Darling is a songbird with a gift for turning emotion into magic. Her collection of songs reveal the inner feelings of her passionate pursuit of music and success in a challenging arena, among great odds. With her newest album, Dream Country, the singer/songwriter moves into another space and time in an evolution that clearly shows the growth and mature transition from the bright-eyed youngster from Iowa hoping to make it big in Music City, to a now seasoned artist. Sarah Darling has come of age and it shows in her polished and meaningful lyrics. COWGIRL caught up with Sarah in Cave Creek, Arizona, where we spoke with her and took pictures during the height of Arizona’s spring flower bloom.
COWGIRL: This new album sounds like a coming of age work that is reflective of your tenure in Nashville. How personal are these songs and which most uniquely deliver this personal reflection?
Sarah Darling: Dream Country is my third full-length album. Of all the pieces of music I’ve ever done, this is my heart and soul. I spent the last couple years writing for it. What was kind of fascinating is I came into my own on this record. There was something about this time in my life–I was ready to share this part of me that I hadn’t yet, musically. I feel like that really came through on Dream Country. The album depicts this sense of dreaming. You’re dreaming big and I wanted to really connect with my fans on who I am as a person. I think, through Dream Country, my fans get to know who I am–which is really a beautiful thing.
COWGIRL: You recently split with your record label. What happened and how did it influence the songs on this record?
Sarah Darling: It was completely necessary. Dream Country is a product of my first independent record. I always describe to people that sometimes when you’re on a label it can be really wonderful, but there’s also a lot of hands in the cookie jar. People are telling you what to do and sometimes it gets clouded. Who you are gets completely shoved under the rug. I had been writing these songs that I really was passionate about and they were being put on the shelf.
I had been with the label almost since I moved to Nashville. I was a baby in a way. They treated me like family. It kind of felt like I just needed to break away from this family and go on and do my own thing. I’m not going to say it was easy being able to say, ‘Okay, now that I’ve broken away, I want to go do something that completely blows everybody away.’ I think I’ve set out to do that. I’ve set out to really show my heart and soul through my songs.
I think “Where Cowboys Ride” is a track that defines me in a way. I think there’s a few defining songs on my album. “Halley’s Comet,” the sound is very escapist. It takes you to a place. It takes you to Wyoming. It takes you to Paris. It takes you anywhere you want to go, but it’s a little escape.
COWGIRL: Tell us about your writing. How do you write?
Sarah Darling: When I write, unfortunately, I get inspiration at very inopportune times. Usually when I’m driving. I think it’s because I’m completely relaxed. I’ll get these melody ideas running through my head and I have on my iPhone my little notes and recorder. I also have some core people I love writing with; most of them are actually my best friends. I found that being in Nashville, you write best with people that you love and who know you really well. Also, if you put me in a beautiful place whether it’s Arizona or Wyoming or anywhere in Europe, I love writing and pulling from that inspiration. I find that the music will sound like what it looks like.
COWGIRL: How would you compare Dream Country to the previous albums that you recorded?
Sarah Darling: Dream Country is completely different than anything I’ve recorded. I almost describe it as my personal work of art. I did this album, really, for myself. It kind of turns out that as I listen back to all the songs, these were all self-motivating songs about following my dream and not giving up. I think it’s so wonderful to be able to look back on this album and say “Starry Eyes” was actually written–it was the advice that I would give my younger self. Now, some little girl can hear that song and relate to it, which is so beautiful. I think Dream Country is a whole new genre now. It’s my version of country music.
COWGIRL: The video for “Where Cowboys Ride,” was filmed with collaboration from the state of Wyoming. How did that come about?
Sarah Darling: “Where Cowboys Ride” is a song that I wrote about a year ago. I wrote it with Zach Runquist. He is a gentleman who loves Wyoming just as much as I. I had been there a couple times in my life and we were sitting in my condo and we pulled up this iconic picture of Jackson Hole and I was like, ‘You know what, let’s write a song about the west.’ That big, open sky makes you dream beyond imagination. So we ended up writing this song. When it was finished, I sent it to Wyoming Tourism and I said, ‘Hey, I know you’re the cowboy state, I wrote a song that is completely my love letter to Wyoming and how much I love it.’ They fell in love with it and we ended up partnering up. I got to shoot the music video outside Dubois, Wyoming. They scouted some of the most gorgeous locations; it just turned out so beautifully. If you go to travelwyoming.com you can see “Where Cowboys Ride.”
COWGIRL: “Halley’s Comet” is a beautiful song. What is the song about and why did you decide the video should be animated?
Sarah Darling: “Halley’s Comet” is probably the most personal song on my album. I wrote it with two good friends of mine. I was actually a little bit sad when I wrote it. I had left the label. I was trying to figure out how I was going to find a place to shine in this crazy mix of so many talented people. I’m so glad I was brought to that point because I ended up writing this song that truly meant something to me. It’s my story. It’s my story as a singer chasing a dream. Nobody tells you that you’re going to have so many ups and downs, but the journey is the best part. Shine wherever you are. The animation was the innocence that I hope everybody keeps when they dream. I think it’s so easy to get down about things that didn’t work out, but everything happens the way it should and I’m a big believer that all things work out just when they’re supposed to. I think that was exactly what that song is all about and the video as well.
COWGIRL: Montmartre is a song about Paris. Why is Paris so special to you?
Sarah Darling: I married an Englishman. As the story goes, we met in London about five years ago…there was this chemistry. He took me to a pub and that was it. We decided to keep in touch for a year after that. We ended up seeing each other again. I flew to London and two crazy kids, we took the train to Paris and it was sort of out of a–I felt like I was in Midnight in Paris, like I was in my own personal movie. I was Audrey Hepburn and I was out drinking champagne and eating macarons. That’s why, forever, in my mind, that song is so special to me.
COWGIRL: What do you do when you’re not writing and performing?
Sarah Darling: When I’m not on the road I love to cook. I’m huge on watching chefs on TV. I love making something that’s completely hard. I love to travel. Love to go hiking. Love being outside and binge watching Netflix shows. I have a little dog named Jack and he’s adorable. He looks like the dog on Never Ending Story. He’s super sweet–white and fluffy.
COWGIRL: Tell us about Sweet Darling Patisserie.
Sarah Darling: Sweet Darling Patisserie was born almost immediately after I went to Paris. There’s a supermodel that turned into a chef who was making macarons on TV. Her name’s Lorraine Pascale, I’ll never forget this, and I see her making macarons and I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ So I go get all the supplies. I make a mess in the kitchen. There’s batter everywhere. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is terrible.’ James said I was crying. I think it was because I made such a mess. I ended up going to Paris and taking some classes. I got really good at making French macaroons. I put my mind to it and now we have a little Patisserie cart. Looks like something you would see in France–which we roll up to the farmer’s markets in Franklin, Tennessee. It’s so sweet–there with all these amazing farmers and we all appreciate each other’s work. It’s like a work of art. We all make art. It’s a completely side part of my life which is really fun and therapeutic.
COWGIRL: How would you describe your brand?
Sarah Darling: The Sarah Darling brand, it’s quite innocent. It’s ethereal–a little bit dreamy. I think, for years, I didn’t know what my brand was. I think your brand is really just who you are as a person. Really letting that shine through and not being afraid to say, ‘This is who I am.’ I think it’s–definitely I hope it’s–light. It’s a shining light for people. Being a storyteller and being the best person that I can be. Hoping everyone can dream as big as they want to.
Photography by Ken Amorosano
Styling by Rhiannon Deremo – Hair & Makeup by Julie Koeth