Category: sarah leete

Interview: Sarah Leete

Singer-songwriter recently released her debut single, ‘Safe’, with her EP to follow in early November. I recently had a chat to her and found out about her interesting working life and why she chose Catherine Britt to produce her EP.

Who did you grow up listening to?
Cat Stevens, pretty much on repeat. And a bit of Neil Young. Mum and Dad were a bit older than a lot of my friends’ parents were at the time. Mum used to listen to a bit of Barbra Streisand. But unfortunately none of that came through, I don’t know, in my music. Then Mum started listening to country stuff – we used to listen to John Williamson a lot for entertainment value. I remember a couple of trips in the car, back when cassettes were around, and Mum started getting into Patty Griffin and stuff like that.
So, now, who do you consider your biggest influences to be?
Right now I listen to a lot of Maren Morris, and I still listen to Patty Griffin, and Lori McKenna. I was pretty heavily influenced by Michelle Branch. She was emerging at an influential age, when I started high school. I was pretty into her and I still follow her stuff. She has a new record out but it’s not like her older stuff. A lot of new artists who are coming out – Caitlin Smith. A lot of American stuff. A bit of whatever’s going.
It’s always interesting to hear what people are listening to, and also about their musical lineage. Patty Griffin has come through pretty strongly for you – and it’s hard to go wrong with her.
I know, she’s amazing.
When did you start singing?
I could do the cliché … I used to sing a lot when I was a kid. By the end of primary school everyone was sick of hearing me sing, so I stopped for a bit. A lot of my friends were over it. Then when I got into high school I got into a couple of choirs. Started learning guitar when I was thirteen – taught myself. I started writing songs about then too.
Was theresomething that pushed you into songwriting – you felt like you needed to get stuff down – or were you just curious about how it might all work?
We used to drive a fair bit in the car and we’d always listen to Cat Stevens tapes tapes. It was pretty much only a couple of cassettes. And we used to have this little competition to guess what was coming up next – just because we’d heard it that often, we knew. I think just from listening a lot, I got a bit of a grasp for how the musical composition part went – how songs are structured – and then I think I had a natural creativity. I’m pretty creative – I used to make stories up when I was a kid. Then I think just from listening to a lot of music I thought, Oh well, I can make up a song or make up different words to the songs that I knew. Then a boy that I liked at school played guitar and I thought, I can do that. I absolutely hated it at the start because it was so hard. Then because I wasn’t getting lessons I started making up my own stuff, because it was hard to learn the songs that I liked. Then once I got a bit more confident with the chords and stuff like that I could start playing other people’s songs.
You’re the first country music artist I’ve come across who’s from Narrabri. Did you have many peers while you were learning to play and sing? Could you form a band or feel like there were people you could talk to?
I’m actually from the Central Coast originally – I moved up here to work on a farm. I grew up in Wyong. All of my friends were into grunge and pop – Blink 182 and things like that, and I grew up listening to that too. I was in a little band. We did a couple of things at school, nothing too major. But I didn’t realise that the country music scene was all on the coast. I just moved out to work on agriculture – I went to agriculture college and did two years there, got my Certificate III and IV in Agriculture and moved out here. I was always songwriting and stuff through that. Then I got into the performing side of things and realised that all the country music people live on the Central Coast. I could never move back to town. Where we live now is a town that has forty-nine people and it’s half an hour from Narrabri. It’s awesome to live rurally and perform rurally. I do a lot of rural shows. Just to be able to bring live music to smaller towns, because we don’t really have many people out this way. You get the occasional bigger act in Narrabri. But I like to play smaller venues and bring some good-quality covers. My full-time job is music. I’m pretty much a cover musician and that goes towards supporting my originals career. I’ve been doing this now for eighteen months.
That’s fantastic. Part of the reason, I’m sure, why the Central Coast is popular is because it’s fairly easy to run a career from there. Narrabri, obviously, there’s a lot of travel involved. The pure logistics of trying to run a music career from the country – that’s difficult. How far afield are you going for those shows?
I will drive up to six hours either way. I play out towards Tenterfied, Inverell, Glen Innes, then I’ll do other shows in Dubbo, Mudgee. I try to get to the coast when I can because I have a pretty good fan base there – I just don’t get many shows there. It’s all gatekeepered by booking agents. I’ll probably do an [upper] east coast tour. I’m going to be touring my EP – I’ve just bought a van. So I’m going to be living in my van and doing a fair bit of touring just to get my name out and establish a bit of a fan base for when I release an album. I did a tour last year – my husband and I went on what was meant to be a holiday but it was really a tour. I did fifteen shows in four weeks in four states. So it was pretty full-on. We went up through the Territory and Queensland, and that was really, really good, to see that and meet different people from smaller towns. I played in Clermont and Emerald and Cloncurry.
Did you play in Katherine?
No, I didn’t go up that far – I turned off at Tennant Creek. But I’d love to do a Katherine, Darwin thing. I’ll be doing that next year. This year was the first year I’ve been full time, and I stuck to down here during winter and it was horrible – I had gigs cancelled left, right and centre. They just couldn’t get the crowds … I saw a good musician in Darwin and talked to him after a show, and he reckons there’s live music there seven days a week. It would be really good to hang out there for a couple of months and just tour around that area, and even into north-west Queensland. Do a Gulf tour. We did a Gulf trip two years ago, maybe, on a holiday. I sussed out a few towns there – a route where I would tour. It’s on the cards – it’s just a matter of finding enough time.
#
It’s a big decision to do this full time. It’s obviously not a safe choice, especially when you’re starting out. Did you have a sense of giving it a go or did you really feel driven to do it?
I think when I left school I had to choose – or I thought I did – between agriculture and music, and agriculture was because I was passionate about rural life, and I can sit on a tractor and enjoy working with cattle and stuff like that. But I thought there were better prospects – I thought it would be easier to make it in the agriculture industry than in the music industry. I held that belief for a while. Then I put on a lot of weight from working and eating and drinking, as the rural lifestyle kind of goes. And then I lost a lot of weight through exercise and proper eating, and I started a business on the side. I’d quit my agriculture stuff and I was helping my husband – we were renovating our house, and I started a personal training business, which boomed. Again, trying to help the rural area, because I was losing weight by myself, and I was motivated and I was driven, but there’s not really a very good network here for that kind of thing. So that grew out of necessity but got way too big way too quickly. Then while I was doing that I lost weight and I was more confident to perform, and I was gigging on the weekends and also running my business seven days a week. I ended up burning myself out. That was eighteen months ago, so I finished that up and started the music after that. But I’m still recovering. I got to that point where I thought, I’m not getting any younger. I’m 26 but I feel about 40 [laughs]. And I had to choose then because I couldn’t maintain a balance between work and life. I didn’t have hobbies – it was just work, work, work all the time. It still is now but it’s something that’s more manageable, and there’s so many different aspects of music. I really enjoy the music business. I book all my own stuff. I really enjoy all of that. And, obviously, music creation. There’s a lot of different aspects I can do. But I’m still trying to find my mojo to get back into my exercise. Personal training is pretty much 80 per cent counselling [laughs]. So I’m trying to get that jive back, and once I’ve got that organised [and doing it with the music] I’ve just got to look after myself a bit more.
Burning out can have a huge impact on a voice, so that would be a concern when your voice is your main instrument.
For sure, and mental health too. I looked really good because I’d lost all the weight and I was really confident with that, but I just didn’t take enough time for self-care and it just got to the point where I was not in a good space, and it took a while to get over that. I don’t drink any more now because I used to drink like a sailor – I went to ag college, where they pretty much teach you how to drink. I quit drinking for a year after a really bad hangover, then I’d lost weight and there’s not as much buffer there – I was 30, 40 kilos lighter. With music, I think my voice is better now than it’s ever been. Performance, because I’m doing it all the time, it’s really, really good. I think it’s just what you focus on. I’m reasonably good with how I look after [my voice]. I am using it all the time, every weekend, during the week, I’m on the phone a lot organising things – it’s something I’ve just got to keep in check.
You chose Catherine Britt to produce your EP – and I’m delighted that she’s producing things. She’s also someone who, like you, commits to things in a wholehearted way and also has a few things on the go. How did you two come together for this project?
I met her at the Academy of Country Music – I did that in 2016. And I was really, really excited to even just meet her, but she ended up mentoring me through the academy, which is the best thing I’ve ever done – I should have done it five years ago. It was really good to form a relationship with her and all the other people. I was applying for a grant through Arts NSW and I was consulting her about getting a recommendation – a back-up letter of support – and she suggested that she was going to produce some stuff. I really just wanted to be different. I have a lot of friends from the academy and they all use Matt Fell or someone like that. And while he is an amazing producer, I just wanted to have a different sound and a different direction with my stuff. Catherine was the perfect fit for that. It was really good to work with her. She’s another female in the industry, too. I really dig strong women, whether it’s in the Australian country music industry or the American country music industry. It’s great to be able to work with her and make something that I’m proud of. I still talk to her regularly about what’s going on and she’s there for any questions I have about the music business, or life. I’m hoping to have her produce my album if she doesn’t get too focused on the children side of things [laughs].
Are you looking to go to Tamworth? How are you seeing the next twelve months play out?
There will be an EP tour – I’m in the midst of booking that and finalising that now. The Tamworth situation – I’ve got a few gigs booked there and I’m pretty excited about that because it will be my first big Tamworth. Last year I did a couple of appearances but nothing as full on as [what’s coming] … It’s booked very, very early and then it’s booked very, very late so it’s hard to know when to approach people. But it’s all a learning experience.

Listen to ‘Safe’ on Soundcloud.

or Google Play.

www.sarahleetemusic.com

Single release: ‘Safe’ by Sarah Leete

Sarah Leete is an exciting new country music talent who lives near Narrabri, NSW. She has released her debut single, ‘Safe’, and announces her debut EP for release on 3 November.

Having built a loyal fan base through strong vocals, an infectious personality and a unique sense of humour, the release of ‘Safe’ comes in the wake of Sarah’s first tour – The Central Australia Tour – during which she self-booked, promoted and performed at 15 venues, across 4 states, over 4 weeks.

Leete has a fantastically layered, rich voice that suggests she keeps herself safe even as she implores to be kept safe in this impressive song.

Listen to ‘Safe’ on Soundcloud.

or Google Play.

www.sarahleetemusic.com