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Interview: Sam Outlaw talks about new single Forever and Always, his Opry debut and new music

We caught up with Sam before he returns to the UK in September.

Sam Outlaw
Credit: Matt Wignall

More than two years have passed since I last spoke to Sam Outlaw as he was promoting his second album Tenderheart.

Today he releases his new single Forever and Always, a duet with Sarah Darling, which is his first new music since the release of his Hat Acts EP earlier this year. In September and October Outlaw will be back in the UK and Europe for a string of headline shows and to perform at The Long Road Festival.

I caught up with Sam recently to talk about his new single, discuss his Grand Ole Opry debut and to find out about his plans to release more new music…

So much has changed since we last spoke before the release of Tenderheart. First of all you moved to Nashville recently. Why did you decide to make that move?

I’d like to say that it was because of musical reasons that my family moved to Nashville but frankly, I guess it was about a year and a half ago… it was New Year’s Day 2018 and my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second baby. We were quite surprised yet again, we need to figure out how this works so we stop being so surprised when the kids arrive (laughs), and when we found out that we’re having a second baby we looked at each other like, ‘maybe we should take this whole window shopping phase from Nashville into the serious house hunting phase’. It really just came down to trying to live as a songwriter and afford even a modest life in Los Angeles, which was just was getting increasingly more and more difficult. Nashville, I mean there’s so much about it that really, really makes sense, obviously from an industry and music standpoint but also it’s just really grown as a city in the last six to ten years, and it’s still affordable. We started taking a serious look at Nashville as a place where we could still continue with music and not feel financially overwhelmed. Luckily we found our dream home here in East Nashville and we moved out here about a year ago.

Sam Outlaw

Credit: Alex Kweskin

It seems like the move is working out for you. I saw that you made your Grand Ole Opry debut recently. What was that like for you?

Ugh, I mean that was that was incredible. I probably had a month straight of stress dreams leading up to the Opry debut, like when I’m walking out onstage and all of a sudden the strings on my guitar are all broken. I started calming down about a couple of days before the show and then when I got there it was just a really beautiful wonderful experience. They make a big deal about pampering you when it’s your Opry debut. I pulled up and the security guard waved me through and I had my own reserved parking spot. They give you your own closed dressing room that’s filled with a little welcome bag with goodies and books and different things.

I couldn’t believe how well run it is. It’s just run so properly. The people there were just all so educated and really had a lot of cool insight into what the Opry’s about. I just felt so taken care of. I also was very blessed to have some family with me in town from California and from Indiana. I got to be with my family, my loved ones, and I got to perform two songs. The performances and the music was actually kind of like a blur. You go out there and you’ve got the lights… they announced me and announced it was my debut, people clap, I played my songs and before you know it, it’s over. It was a trip. I got to meet Vince Gill backstage later and when I was watching the rest of the show from the audience he gave me a shout out. That was really humbling because I’m such a huge fan of Vince Gill. To have him even know my name was kind of a crazy moment. It was just tremendously fun. It’s a country singer’s dream ticket to get to play the Opry and the fact that they set it up to surround with such warmth, support and encouragement is really cool.

You’re back there again this week aren’t you?

I get to play it again this Friday! (laughs) I just found out and I also get to play on August 16th. Sarah Darling and I are going to actually perform our duet together live at the Opry on August 16th.

That leads very nicely into talking about Forever and Always, your new duet with Sarah Darling. How did that come about?

I wrote this tune and as you’ve heard it’s just a sweet kind of classic style love. There’s no cynicism and it’s almost like a wedding song of sorts. I think maybe in the first minute that I finished writing, I don’t know if I necessarily thought it was a duet. Pretty quickly afterwards I started thinking, ‘I wonder if this would make a nice duet?’. My manager put me in touch with a guy named Jeff Cohen. He’s a regular to the UK as well and he’s a songwriter out here in Nashville, and he’s well-connected. My manager thought he might some ideas for a duet partner and it was actually Jeff that suggested Sarah Darling. I had heard of her and I was sort of familiar but it wasn’t until I pulled up her Spotify. I listened to the first song of they gave me a hers, which was Where Cowboys Ride, and it was really beautiful. Within four seconds of hearing her voice I was just like, ‘man, this person’s perfect. If she’ll do it, she’d be the perfect vocal addition’. Sure enough Jeff sent her the tune, she liked it and we got together at my place. She met my family, we hung out and we sang through the song and it just felt like there was a good vocal chemistry there. Then we tracked her and it was exactly what we wanted.

Sam Outlaw and Sarah Darling

Credit: Sean McGee

It’s amazing to think that you two have never crossed paths before given that you both spend a lot of time in the UK…

Right?! I wonder if we had because I feel like both her and I were somewhat familiar with each other’s music and other’s careers, being that we’re both country singers and have almost fake sounding last names (laughs). She does tour over there all the time. That also goes to show what kind of a whirlwind it is when you’re touring. Usually you just kind of feel thrown from one show to the next. It’s very hard to feel like you have a minute to stop and look around. Even when you play festivals it’s like, ‘was that band on the festival line up or not? It’s hard to remember!’ It is kind of ridiculous that we never officially crossed paths but now that we have, I’m really looking forward to getting to sing with her some more.

You’re back in the UK and Europe in September and October. How excited are you to be back over here and what can we expect from these shows?

I can’t wait to get back because by the time I get there it’ll have been over a year. This time around I’m once again bringing a full band. I’ve got this phenomenal support artist with me named Lydia Luce. She’s a phenomenal string arranger – she’s plays a bunch of string instruments – and she’s going to be opening the show and also singing in the band. Rounding out the band is pedal steel, drums, bass and electric guitar. I’ve got my favourite pedal steel player coming from the UK. and he’s based in London. He’s just one of my favourite people in the whole world. We’ll have a lot of vocals because Lydia’s gonna be singing, my new drummer Tommy sings and my bass player Kelly sings. I think we’ll do another set up where we do a full band set and then an acoustic break where maybe it’s me and Lydia for a few songs and we’ll do some stripped down tunes that way. Then we’ll bring the band back for another full band set. It’s gonna be awesome man. These musicians are all crazily talented. We’re going to rehearse here in Nashville all together and then fly out and hit the road.

You have such a great relationship with your UK fans and we really love you over here. What’s it been like for you to build that up, watch it grow and have such a loyal fan base over here?

I think when it when I first started getting out to the UK, it was just a couple of little festivals here and there. I felt like I didn’t really get a chance to bring my real self because I was using these pickup musicians and you don’t feel terribly rehearsed and you don’t feel super ready. I think it was maybe when I first started doing touring where it was just an acoustic duo, whether that be with either of the gals that I’ve sung with before, but I think it was (then) that I started really feeling like I was bringing my own personality, my own heart and my own self to the stage. I think people responded to that in a way that was just really special.

Having the support of Bob Harris of BBC in London or Ricky Ross of BBC in Glasgow, obviously that makes a difference just in terms of people being introduced to your music. I really felt like it happened organically. I just kept coming back, I kept playing the shows, I kept meeting people and feeling that genuine connection between what was happening onstage and what was happening in the audience, and I think that’s just the best case scenario – when you just simply bring your songs and people connect with it. It’s been such an honour to feel embraced in a way that I don’t know that I’ve felt anywhere else. There’s only maybe a few other countries where I’ve felt that level of warmth and grace but UK audiences have been incredible. As long as they’ll have me I’ll always keep coming back and try to bring new music.

I remember one of the turning points for you here was Nashville Meets London a couple of years back. You blew everyone away and there’s been such a buzz about you since…

That was such a fun festival. I remember it was raining during the day and it cleared up I fell like just for our set. Ashley Campbell performed and I was blown away by her performance. She was unbelievable. Then we went out and I was worried we were all going to get drenched but the rain held off for the entire set. I got a bottle of Rosé they’d given me backstage. The band was just in a great mood. It was so fun that day. There are so many examples of shows in the UK that were just so fun where I could tell the audience was into it and afterwards you feel like you’re walking on air because there’s just no better feeling than knowing you got to actually give people the best of yourself.

The Tenderheart record just lends itself to live performance. I adore the record and it’s one of those albums that gets better with every listen…

Thanks so much. That’s another thing about this upcoming tour. I always try to find a way to do something slightly different. I never want to bring the same set of songs or even doing the songs in the exact same way as I’ve done them before. Another thing I think people should be expecting with this tour is that I’ll find a way to do songs that are normally done full band maybe I’ll do stripped down or songs that are normally stripped down I night do with a full band. I might try to pull out some songs that are the ones that are buried at the back of the album that you forget to play live. Sometimes those are people’s favourite tunes and afterwards they’re asking, ‘why didn’t you play this or why didn’t you play that?’ I think I’ll be trying to really mix it up again and bring in a variety of songs done in a variety of ways.

Sam Outlaw

Credit: Sean McGee

You’ve been releasing new music this year with the Hat Acts EP and Forever and Always. Is there a new album on the way?

I’ve got a bunch of new music on deck to release. Honestly, what I’m trying to figure out right now is whether or not I really want to have the future of my music releases just be that you record a 13 song and put that out, and in two years you put out another 13 song record. I’m finding more and more that modern audiences are consuming music in a different way. They might still buy the record at the show, they might still buy the CD and vinyl so I can sign it but I think a lot of people are still listening to music differently.

What I’m exploring right now is how I want to release this new music and I’m leaning towards a model that is a little more like what a lot of people are doing in the pop world, which is releasing a single or short record and releasing music more often as opposed to simply waiting two years dropping a bunch of music, touring on it until you almost die, taking three months off, recording another record, putting out another record, touring that until you almost die… I’m interested in putting out more music so that fans are actually getting a more steady stream of music.

That also gives me a chance to really focus on a specific song or on a set of two or three songs. It gives me a chance to get a little more intentional with the artwork as opposed to trying to find an album cover that somehow captures the feel of an entire 12, 13 or 14 song record. It’s fun to come up with artwork that really speaks to each specific song or a small grouping of songs. That’s what I’m exploring right now so all I can tell you is there will be a lot of new music released but I can’t tell you in this moment today exactly how I’m going to release it. I’m leaning towards something that’s a little more frequent although that’s yet to be determined.

I’m excited to hear it in whatever form it comes out. Your music is always worth listening to…

Thanks man! I think the EP I put out, which was an homage to classic country and also a chance for me to make fun of myself and be self-deprecating, and then this new single that you’ve heard with Sarah is obviously very classic sounding…. I will say the following this duet, the new stuff that you’re going to be hearing is probably going to be the new music I’ve been writing that is leaning a little more towards rock and roll. By that I simply mean it’s bigger and more energetic music. I’ve always loved rock and I’ve always loved pop. I think that some of the stuff, while still absolutely capturing my love for country and roots music, it’s going to be a little more on the energetic side.

I can’t wait to hear it!

You never know, people sometimes hate the new stuff (laughs) and sometimes the new stuff is what gets them to go from not wanting to come to a show to really wanting to be at a show. It’s always interesting to see what happens and it’s fun as well.

You’ve got a lot coming up before the end of the year but is there anything else you want to achieve before 2020 rolls around?

I produced a record last year for a singer-songwriter names Michaela Anne and that’s coming out in September so I’m excited for people to get to hear that. In addition to that I’ve been collaborating with other L.A. and Nashville-based artists on duets and different things. I’m definitely dipping my toes a lot more into the producer world. I’m finding that I really get a lot of enjoyment from working with other people and helping them to take their vision and make it a reality. Co-writing and producing is something that I’m really loving and enjoying right now. Hopefully if people let me I’ll get the chance to do a lot more of that in the next year or so.

You’re going to be pretty busy then…

Well yeah. Beyond that I’ve got my beautiful wife and our two beautiful boys and it’s always a circus here at home. Honestly I like being busy. I’d rather be moving. There’s not a lot of dull moments here at the house but I feel blessed by all of it. I will always want to keep touring. Once you have two kids the prospect of leaving home for a month becomes more and more of a daunting thing. We’ll see what that looks like in the next couple years.

It must be hard to leave your family to tour overseas…

It is man. Even when it was just my wife she could come on the road with me, and that’s a mixed bag of fun and misery. Once you have kids in the mix man it’s just a whole other level. Leaving home is really painful (laughs). You almost have to just like go into war mode for the time you’re on the road then then come back home and open your eyes back up. Frankly it is hard but it helps pay the bills so you got to make compromises.

Sam Outlaw’s new single Forever and Always with Sarah Darling is available to stream and download now. Take a listen to it below:

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