There’s no time like the present to present Sarah Lee Langford. Her new album, Two Hearted Rounder, drops at the end of this week and we were lucky enough to chat with her about the spirit of Bluegrass, the foundation of family, and the smooth ways of a nice glass of Kentucky bourbon.
Kendra: If we were to playback your life from the start, when/where would we press pause to see you first get interested in music? And then hit pause again to see when you started to take it from a hobby of sorts to pursuing it professionally?
Sarah Lee Langford: I always sang with my folks when I was coming up. We had a little family bluegrass band in which I played the upright bass and stood on the fireplace hearth before I was tall enough to reach the top. I started playing guitar at age 13, singing Joni Mitchell and eventually playing in bands with friends.
I got myself a college degree in Music Education and endured a few opera arias along the way. Music was always my way in, a constant companion. When my dad entrusted me with my grandad’s c.1935 Gibson archtop back in 2015, I started writing songs I actually liked, and I guess that’s when things started to feel more real for me. That’s when I was able to contribute to the lexicon. Then last year I somehow persuaded some of Birmingham’s best musicians to play classic country with me and next thing I know, we made a record.
Kendra: Bluegrass isn’t a genre we hear every day on Top 40 stations. What about it do you feel has made Bluegrass a sort of underground gem for musicians and fans alike?
Sarah Lee Langford: Bluegrass is roots music that speaks to America’s immigrant past. It carries the soul and vernacular of the South, including the horrors of slavery and delight of getting away with moonshining. Bluegrass is not for everyone, but if you love it, you carry those stories with you.
Country music is universal in much the same way. As I moved into making this new record, I had to reckon with the fact that indeed, these songs make me a country singer, which originally felt like a stretch way out of my comfort zone. I might be bringing more twang than I ever realized.
Kendra: You’re covering a lot on the new album, Two Hearted Rounder, but in regards to “Bar Stool,” if you had to compare this new record to an alcoholic beverage which would it be and why?
Sarah Lee Langford: The finest bottom shelf Kentucky bourbon, replete with courage and more than an angel’s share of bad decisions.
Kendra: People got a taste of Two Hearted Rounder when you dropped “Growing Up.” When you explained the song in that it was about not being able to relate to another when they’re in pain, it made me think…pain is universal. We all go through it at various stages in our lives, so why is it also so personal? Why aren’t we able to immediately grasp another’s pain?
Sarah Lee Langford: I think we’re usually so wrapped up in our own thoughts and worries that it’s difficult to be present for other people. Either that or we’re distracting ourselves with our phones or other hedonistic pleasures. More than that though, sometimes the pain is so great that we just do not know how to deal. Saying “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who is dealing with unspeakable grief often seems so trite.
Kendra: You’ve also got “Sing My Own Love Song” and that made me think of Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” which she wrote after her label wanted her to pen a traditional romance tune. Did you write that in the same state of mind?
Sarah Lee Langford: This song came about when I redefined my autonomy. Not for any other person, not for a label, but for me, and to model that for my daughters. Really I just wanted to write a song to replicate what 1970’s JJ Cale makes me feel inside my heart. Windows down, mostly one-chord, right in the pocket groove. Couldn’t have accomplished that without this amazing band.
Kendra: We have the album out on November 8th. What’s up after that? Touring locally, nationally?
Sarah Lee Langford: We’ve got a couple of release shows in Birmingham in November (Seasick Records and Mom’s Basement), and an album release show at the legendary Station Inn in Nashville on November 23. After that, we’re trying to line up some shows around the southeast and see what happens after that. I definitely would love to take this show on the road.