Arkansas-born Heath Sanders worked in oil fields for ten years – until a cover of him covering Chris Stapleton’s song ‘Either Way’ went viral on Facebook.
Along with a letter from his mum and an appearance on Bobby Bones’ radio show, that gave him the push to embark on a career in country music. And so far it’s paying off, with the release of his debut EP ‘Common Ground’ earlier this year and his debut single ‘Old School’s In’ climbing the charts.
I recently caught up with Heath to chat about the EP, working with producer Dan Huff, how he approaches his songwriting, his hopes of touring in the UK and much more.
How would you describe your music?
My management asked me one day, “Can you put your sound into two words? Like, what kind of country music is it?” And the first word that came to my mind and it’s kind of stuck since, it’s blue-collar country. You know, where most of my music is focused around family and work and moms and dads and grandparents and that small town blue-collar life. So I think it’s blue-collar country.
You put out your EP ‘Common Ground’ earlier this year – can you tell us more about that?
Yeah. Common Ground – well, it’s obviously my first EP under a label. I think we’ve done a pretty good job as far as selecting songs. We chose those four just because they’re all so very different, and we really just wanted to see what the fans thought and get some feedback from the fans before we decided to release a full album.
Probably there’s two songs that really stick out on the ‘Common Ground’ EP and that’s ‘Old School’s In’ which is my first single to radio, and then ‘Common Ground’ of course. It’s funny, looking back, when we wrote the song, the day we wrote the song as soon as we came up with the title I told the guys I was writing with, “this is what I’m gonna name my EP. This is what I’m gonna name my first album regardless of whatever it is”. It turned out that way and the label didn’t have a problem with it, the label fell in love with the song as well. So yeah, we’re really proud of it. We’ve had a good reception from radio and a lot of good feedback from the fans. So yeah, I think we’re off to a good start here.
When you were putting the EP together, was it quite difficult to get it down to just four songs? Or did you have a very clear idea of what you wanted to go on there?
I’m gonna tell you the real story here, I won’t give you a generic version. I respect your time enough for that. But when we actually picked the four songs, I had a very limited catalogue. I’d probably written, I don’t know, 40 or 50 songs, so we really didn’t have just a plethora to choose from. So at the time those were probably my four best songs. But from the time we chose those songs to the time we actually got into the studio to record them, I had written several more that I really truly loved. I pleaded with the label to replace some of the songs that we’d recorded this time with some of the other songs I’d written between that time, and they told me just to have a little patience, let’s record the ones that we had our hearts set on to begin with and then hopefully in the near future we’ll get back in the studio and record some of the ones that I wanted to cut. But yeah, initially it was pretty easy. But even when it was all said and done I really fought for some other songs but didn’t succeed. But I’m proud we ended up with the songs we got.
You worked with Dan Huff on the EP as well – what was that like?
I assumed – I wouldn’t know this for sure, but I assume it’s something like… Watching Dan Huff in the studio has to be similar to watching Picasso paint, you know? Nobody can really mimic what Dan does. Dan has a really cool way of communicating with musicians and the team on the album. He really cares about what the artist thinks. The thing I really love about Dan is that Dan’s had such a massive amount of success here in Nashville and across the country in all kinds of genres. But he’s still open to the ideas of such a young artist like myself. That’s really what makes Dan great, I think.
I also wanted to ask about how you approach your songwriting. Do you have a typical songwriting process or does it vary from song to song?
Yeah. I always kind of default back to what I heard Chris Stapleton saying one time, and this was… I heard him say it back when I first got into songwriting, and typically when I first started writing I would always just kind of come up with the chord structure on the guitar and then I would sit down and just kind of come up with an idea. And I guess the same process kind of throughout. But I sat down and I listened to Chris Stapleton’s interview with Joe Rogan and he said that he doesn’t have a particular process, that it all comes from different places. And now that I’ve been writing songs for about three years I’ve learned how true that actually is.
Typically it’s just about grabbing the idea out of the air when it flies by you. I’ve written songs a million different ways. You can be driving down the road and a melody might hit you and you’re just maybe humming this melody, or a lyric might hit you and you may start building a melody around that lyric. Or you may just sit down at the house and you may start just strumming the guitar, and that chord, that strumming pattern or that chord progression may make you feel a certain way. And so you just gotta capitalise on that feeling and putting down words on paper. It’s really cool. It keeps it really fresh.
Speaking of Chris Stapleton – your big break came from a cover of ‘Either Way’ that ended up going viral, and you’ve got a few cover song videos on your YouTube channel. Do you have any particular favourite songs you’ve covered?
I think my favourite song… I’m gonna go with this one just because it is my favourite country song, it’s Sunday In The South by Shenandoah. It just takes me back to my childhood. When I hear the first chorus to that song I can smell my grandpa’s truck. It’s such a nostalgic song for me that every time I sing it, I truly believe every word I’m saying of it. So that’s gotta be mine. It’s Shenandoah, Sunday In The South.
What’s next on the horizon for you? You’ve mentioned the possibility of an album – are there plans to get back out on the road soon as well?
Yeah, I mean you kind of summed it up there. It’s really about getting back on the road right now. I mean, just before you got on we were talking about the UK opening back up a little bit and the same’s happening out here in the States. I think everybody’s kind of taking a big deep breath and we’re starting to see the other side of this thing. So I can’t wait to see the kind of parties that country music fans are gonna have at these concerts when we open back up. But definitely looking forward to that, that’s number one priority on the list. And then shortly after I would say, I got my fingers crossed that by the end of the year or the first quarter of next year we’ll be back in the studio.
And lastly – once it’s safe to do so and we’re allowed to travel again, do you have any plans to come over to the UK?
Heck yeah! Before I even signed with the label I had some folks in the UK hit us up, and I think we were planning on doing that before Covid hit. But yeah, I’ve only been out of the country one time and it was right when the label signed me and sent me off to Cancun. But I’m looking forward to seeing y’all across the pond, man. I never imagined I would see the world like I’m gonna get to see it. So yeah, it’s really exciting for me.
I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this but when you said about the parties – we’ve missed two years of Country to Country which is our big country festival here…
Yeah, I never really realised what a country music market there was in the UK. I guess I just never considered it, never thought about it. But yeah, you guys are country as we are, man. It’s awesome, I love it.
Heath Sanders’ debut EP, ‘Common Ground’, is out now.