Sarah Dunn, the voice behind the Sarah Dunn Band‘s “You or the Whiskey,” definitely qualifies as an old soul. And not just in her attitude toward building her career.
“I was delivered by a midwife in Monett, Missouri, in this antebellum home. I like to think I had a special start,” says the vivacious 25-year-old singer. “From the age of five, we moved into my great grandparents’ old house, which actually began as a one room cabin. We still had the same old Franklin wood stove that had originally been in it. I don’t think of myself as a typical person from my generation. I had kind of an old-fashioned upbringing, which makes everything that is going on right now even more special.”
Sarah Dunn Band’s debut album, You Or the Whiskey, is out this week, in the midst of their current promotional tour. But speaking to Billboard, Dunn is looking back as much as forward.
“My folks didn’t have a lot of money and they worked really hard,” she says of her childhood. “I got interested in playing the fiddle because my great granddad actually played. He knew thousands of tunes and was absolutely amazing. I remember watching him, and picked up one of his old fiddles. I still have it actually.
“Then I had a red Little Orphan Annie record player. We didn’t have a tape deck or a CD player. That’s all we had. I played old Bob Wills 45 RPM records on it. I would sit and start that record over and over trying to learn those Bob Wills songs. That’s how I started learning fiddle. My mom always had so much music in the house — Bob Wills, Ella Fitzgerald, all the way to Tracy Lawrence, it was so far reaching,” she recalls of her eclectic musical upbringing.
Eventually, her career dreams would lead her to Music City. “I came down to see what it was all about. We had saved up some money to make the trip. I remember coming down here late at night — about a nine-hour drive. I was so tired, but I was trying to make sure I stayed awake so I could see Nashville the first time we came into town. When we came over the hill on the highway, seeing the Nashville skyline, I could feel the possibilities. I got choked up. Whenever I feel like I am getting a little lost or that things aren’t going in the right direction, I come to Nashville. feel that energy and it renews me.”
You Or The Whiskey is full of material that shows her range and talent as a vocalist, from the fiery spirit of the single to the heartfelt balladry and emotion of “Anywhere You Go.” Dunn beams when discussing how her band came together.
“I had come up to Tulsa, and Scotty Fell, my guitar player, was playing in a band up there, and we immediately clicked musically. He said he had some other guys he wanted me to meet. So we all got together and I played them a couple of my songs. They said, ‘Let’s record them right now. We have a home studio here.’ We did, and it was just magic. It was such a good chemistry with good people. We have a good thing going on.”
For her bandmates, that admiration is a two-way street. “It’s been very enlightening and humbling to meet someone that young who is that talented,” says veteran drummer David Kwika. “It’s been great to see her evolve and see her confidence grow in the past year. She’s just about a completely different person than when we started last fall. She appreciates every good thing that comes her way without her being fake or phony. She’s just a real person.”