Sophie Sanders Premieres 'Still Waters,' Talks Growing Up Around Songwriters In Nashville

Sophie Sanders
Danielle Zimmerer

Sophie Sanders

Sophie Sanders grew up entrenched in the Nashville music community; her father, Mark D. Sanders, is one of Music City's top tunesmiths, writing such hits as "I Hope You Dance." She follows in his footsteps with the release of her debut single, "Still Waters," and Billboard is proud to bring you the exclusive first listen.

Sanders doesn't remember a time when music wasn't a part of her life. "I was always around songwriting and songwriters and going to hear my dad play and stuff. What was funny was my brother would get up on stage occasionally with my dad and help him sing his songs. I was the child that was just clinging to my mother not talking to anyone. I guess I was always listening, though," she says with a smile.

Another musical memory from her youth was getting to go to the Grammys with her parents at age six. "I remember they bought my brother and I notebooks to use as autograph books. We went around trying to get people's autographs and I remember we got Beyonce's autograph. At the time she was still in Destiny's Child. I think we also got Lil Bow Wow's autograph. He opened the show that year."

Early memories notwithstanding, Sanders took a much different path to persuing music – serving a stint in the Peace Corps after college. "I applied because I had studied abroad and just had such a good experience just being immersed in another culture. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and the thought of another adventure sounded like the best thing I could think of. They sent me to Java and Indonesia. I was teaching English to high schoolers. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. It was wonderful and crazy and hard and fun - kind of everything at once."

It was during that period when she decided she had a yen to create. "The first time that I tried playing guitar was literally a week after college graduation. I was home for a couple of weeks, and I had gotten my wisdom teeth out." She says a light bulb went off. "Honestly, that first day I became determined to learn how to play it. So then, my dad let me take his little baby Taylor and I had it with me for the next couple of years and I took it to Indonesia with me."

Recording her first project has definitely been an unforgettable experience. "It's been a learning experience. We had been writing a bunch of songs, and just decided to make a record. My dad and I both had been writing with this writer, Felix McTeigue, who is also a producer. It was kind of a long process because Felix lives in Vermont and then comes down here a bunch to write and stuff. We did it over the course of many months, just kind of piece by piece. So I feel like I learned patience through the whole thing too."

Making the experience even more amazing is the fact that Amy Grant appears on the track, singing harmony. It's a fact that amazes Sanders still to this day.

"I keep sort of having to pinch myself. I don't know Amy that well, but have been around her on and off just growing up here in Nashville. Her niece is one of my good friends. We connected with Amy a little over a year ago because we had this idea to play a parent/child show at the Bluebird. So, my dad and I, Tom Douglas and his daughter Claire, and Amy and Jenny Gill played a round at the Bluebird together."

When Sanders was making her record, she decided to ask Grant if she would lend her talents, figuring the worst thing that could happen is that she would say no.

"I thought, 'She's the sweetest person in the world we can definitely ask her, but I don't think she's actually gonna sing on it.' But then, lo and behold, a few months later when it was time to do backgrounds and harmonies and stuff, we just reached out to Amy and she's like, 'Of course I'll do it!'"

Of the inspiration behind the song, Sanders said "I think I was just in my apartment reading a book. It was one of those weeks where I didn't have many song ideas. I was having writer's block, and I think I just read a sentence that said something about still waters. It was just one of those moments where my brain was immediately like, 'Oh, there's a song.' Then over the next couple of days I just sat at my keyboard and wrote it."

Look for Sanders' full-length debut this fall.