Earning fans one show at a time, landing considerable regional media exposure, scoring two nationally charted singles, developing a base in her native Texas, expanding it nationally and even internationally with a successful U.K. tour in 2014, SaraBeth has made astounding strides in a very short time. And the release of her self-titled EP and aggressive first single “I’m Sick Of It” will surely carry her even further. Unusually, however, for someone who’s gone all-in as an artist, music wasn’t her life’s goal.
Raised in the Dallas area, SaraBeth found joy in music, to be sure. “I always loved singing,” she says. “My first song was ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and my mother says it wasn’t annoying at all when I sang it for the 500th time.” Not to mention Lambchop’s “The Song that Never Ends.” “Lord help my parents and grandparents,” she laughs.
Despite her appreciation for music and a good bit of education and practice through her childhood, it never seemed a likely destination. A self-professed nerd who loved school, SaraBeth attended Baylor majoring in entrepreneurship. “My thought was to go be a power business woman, which probably would have landed me in real estate. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit in a cubicle or behind a desk. From the age of 15 through college I was a waitress and being up, moving and talking to people seemed to fit me better. It was more fun.”
She paid her way through college and spent the summer after graduation teaching music in the Dominican Republic. “That was the best experience of my life,” she says. “There’s so much you can do with an entrepreneurship degree, but being fluent in Spanish gave me that opportunity. When the music teacher dropped out and they asked me, it was a nudge toward music. Then my brother got drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, and I started thinking. I realized I didn’t want to look back and wonder what would have happened if I had tried. Instead of spending the rest of my life wondering, I headed to Nashville and tried to learn as much as I could as fast as I could.”
Country music was not just the obvious choice; it was the only choice. SaraBeth’s parents listened to light rock and Christian music. Her father sang low bass in his college gospel group. “I have vivid memories of him popping in a cassette and us singing along to ‘Step Into The Water’ on repeat,” she says. “But the moment I really fell in love with music is when I found my great grandmother’s cassettes of Patsy Cline and Alan Jackson. I played them so much at her house that eventually she was like, ‘You can just take these with you.’ On that four hour drive home, I’m pretty sure we listened to ‘Chattahoochee’ for at least a third of the trip.”
Even on her way to Nashville years later, the concept of a career was far from her mind. “I thought I would record three songs, cross it off my bucket list and be done,” she admits. Instead, she caught the bug. “The first stuff I did was so wrong because I had to unlearn all the classical training I got growing up. It was quite a process. Self doubt tries to take over, but you keep going anyway.
“You’re scared and learning, but without any experience you count on others and end up taking in a lot of opinions. Eventually you realize that’s putting you in a box that looks a lot like a cookie cutter. Every day 100 new singers move into town and getting where you want to go doesn’t mean sounding like everyone else.”
Writing became a focus and her style evolved to reflect her music collection. “I have everything from chamber music and Christian to hip hop and country. We write a lot of stuff with drum loops on the bottom, and we mix in synthesizer, fiddle and steel, whatever works for the song.”
On her latest collection, SaraBeth collaborated with established writers Glen Mitchell, Tim Morgan, Sandy Ramos, Brian Eckert and Gwen Sebastian. Taken as a whole, the EP is a well-rounded exposition of who she is, framed by her confident alto.
She freshens the rodeo/romance analogy with “You Rock My Rodeo” and paints a perfect sound picture of her personality with “Runnin’ Outta Lipstick.” “You Keep Me Smilin'” is as clever and fun as “Do What You Say You’re Gonna Do” is serious and heartfelt. And the guitar-driven anthem “I’m Sick Of It” showcases an unbridled aggression that’s more than welcome in today’s country music.
The writing session for the single gives a window into her creative vision. “It was a rainy day and Gwen and I were laughing. She is just a hoot! Then Glen started playing this angry riff and one of us said, ‘Uh oh, it sounds like someone is pissed off.’ Someone else said, ‘Fed up.’ And then we looked at each other and said, ‘Sick of it.’ We wrote it so fast – probably less than an hour.”
“That’s the most rocking thing I’ve ever done,” SaraBeth adds. “And it gets great response. I like to have a lot of fun on stage, dance and let the audience be a part of a good time.” And her ability to connect has gotten unlikely affirmation … in the form of one of America’s favorite beverages.
“I’m not a coffee snob, but I do talk about coffee a lot,” she says. “So people started sending me coffee related things – hats, mugs, shirts. When I opened my post office box and started seeing this stuff, I realized I was connecting. They really are getting to know me as more than a girl they saw singing somewhere.”
On SaraBeth, they’ll get to know her even better, particularly on the song “Runnin’ Outta Lipstick.” “I’m known for being a baseball hat nut,” she explains. “I’ve always been one of those girls who likes to hang out in a rock and roll t-shirt and Converse. Just a chill, all-American girl who can be one of the guys. But sometimes I want to put on a black dress and blow them away.” Setting that dichotomy in even deeper relief is the unexpected turn of phrase that peppers her writing. “We drop in some fun lines like, ‘Slap your mama, drop dead.’ It’s sort of different, but it works.” Or maybe it works because it’s different. Sort of like SaraBeth.
Name I was born with: Sarah Elizabeth Swagerty
Name I answer to: SaraBeth
Name my friends call me: SB, Sara-B, or Swags
Hometown: Garland, Texas…but since you probably don’t know where that is (unless you’re from Texas) I’ll just say Dallas!
Home now: Nashville, TN & hotels on the road with my band
Favorite place to visit: Any local coffee shop!
If I was not doing music, I would be: I graduated from Baylor University with a business degree, so I suppose I would be doing something in real estate.
Something my friends know about me: I collect camouflage baseball caps! I think I must have 15-20 of them! My friends are always trying to find new ones for my collection.
My favorite sport: I come from a sports-loving family, though I was much better at watching than playing! My dad was a H.S. basketball coach, and my brother was drafted to play pro baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. I played basketball and volleyball until I was 14, then decided to stick with choir!
A food I won’t eat: I’ll eat anything you put in front of me…but I’m not the biggest fan of raw baby carrots. I usually drown them in ranch.
Favorite food to buy at a truck stop: Combos! The original flavor. Deliciousness in a bag.
What I would do with a 4 hour layover in the airport: First, take a selfie (which I feel like is incredibly awkward, but the fans seem to like it)! Then spend the rest of the time either reading or chatting on Twitter or Instagram.
My most requested song: The National Anthem. I have sung it more times than I can count! My most memorable performance was at the Houston Texans v. Denver Broncos game last year.
Oct 31 MondayCambridge, UK The Portland Arms