Catch up with Nashville-based singer-songwriter Sarah Potenza and listen to her single, "The Mountain", off her new album, Monster, to be released August 19th.
What got you interested in music and songwriting?
Sarah Potenza: I always loved singing - probably because, when I was a kid, I liked showing off 'cause I liked attention - but then I also really liked music. There was kind of a lot of turmoil when I was a kid all the time and music was always a thing that was always there and that I really liked and enjoyed. I even remember, when I was a little kid, do you remember when we had clock radios? I had this little clock radio and I used to keep it under my pillow at night and I would stick my hand under there and turn the dials because I could turn it down so low that no one would hear that I had it on and get mad at me, so I liked to listen to that radio at night and stuff. I just always really loved music and I loved singing because most of the stuff I heard I could sing and I liked to do it. Then, since I got older, it was kind of hard for me to find a place to do that because when you're in school, they have very specific solos for music: they're like, these are the girls' parts and these are the boys' parts and I have this really deep low voice, so it was kind of hard for me, sometimes, to find a place for my voice. I went to college for musical theater because, in musical theater, you can have a big, deep voice - even if you're a woman - and be a lady. In college that was cool but, not in college, there were actual ladies out there in the world who were better singers [laughs]. While I was in college, I was working at Applebees and I sold the most in a contest and won a gift certificate to Best Buy and I went there and I bought this Lucinda Williams DVD and I didn't know who she was, I just bought it and, when I got home and watched it, I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of her mouth and the songs that she had written; it just blew my mind. So, I decided that I was going to be a songwriter and I didn't want to go to college to do musical theater anymore - I didn't want to play somebody else, I wanted to play me - on stage I wanted to be me and so I dropped out of college and I got myself this guitar and I learned to play it and now, here I am still [laughs] fifteen years later.
Do you remember the first album you had?
I don't remember the first one that was mine. I remember my parents had this Bonnie Raitt album called "Thing Called Love" and that was my favorite album when I was a kid.
Which other musicians would you say you have been influenced by?
I really love Charles Bradley because he's this really incredible singer and not just a soul singer, but he really sings from the bottom of his heart and that, to me, is more important than tricks - like flashy runs and notes and stuff - it's just gut emotions. So, I've really been influenced by him and his ability to just let everything out. Also, I really love Mavis Staples and her connection to lyrics. Those two have really influenced me a lot.
What words would you use to describe your own sound?
Well, it's roots music but it's very soulful and it's very honest. It's so difficult to describe it for me, I don't know why, probably because I made it. It's roots rock and roll; it's a little bit of rock and it's just got a lot of dynamics to it.
What were your inspirations behind your single "The Mountain"?
Mostly, I just wrote it as a pep talk to myself to keep myself going and it just took on a whole new life and a whole new meaning of its own when I shared it with other people.
Is that single indicative of what we can expect to hear on your album and can you tell us more about Monster?
Yeah, yeah it is. It really is indicative of the rest of the album: it's all soul rock roots, soul rock if you will. The rest of the album has some songs on it that are similar in the way that I've written them as pep talks to myself and some of them are like self-revelations. One song in particular called "Monster" is this song about growing up, being a chubby girl in an environment full of girls who were all "regular sized" and I was always bigger than them and the revelation of discovering that being regular is actually a handicap. Being beautiful is more of - or just as much of a handicap - as being a not traditionally beauty standards girl, because you open all these doors with your looks - as a woman, we're taught to do that - and I know so many women who have done that and do that and now they're afraid of aging because their looks are something that they use as a part of the tools in their toolbox; as survival. I've never done that because I've just never been put in that position, ever; I've never opened the door with my looks and I had that revelation and that's where that song came from.
Is there a song from Monster that you're most excited to perform?
I'm really excited to perform "Monster". I really love performing that song live, I like telling the story to the audience and seeing their connection with it and see them think about things in maybe a way that they never thought about before because I know that, before I had this revelation, I'd always been jealous of thin girls; I'd always looked at them and seen their size or their small feet or whatever it was and I'd always say 'oh, I wish my feet were a size 7, I wish I wore a size 4,' and being a person with size 10 1/2 feet and a size 14, I thought that that was a weakness. I thought that was something that I had to overcome, but it was just the opposite. I didn't realize that before and I don't think that a lot of people realize that. I don't think that women value their intelligence or value their talents as much as they should and it really was just such a revelation for me, it's really cool to show that revelation to other people and have them, all of a sudden, you see a lightbulb go off on them and they're like, 'oh my God, I never thought of it that way either!'.
If you had to describe Monster in one sentence, how would you do that?
I would say that Monster is about turning your pain into power.
What do you hope your fans and listeners are able to take away from your music?
I hope that they are able to learn something about themselves through my music; I hope that they're able to see things in a different light, even just a little bit, even just for a moment. I hope they're able to find the joy and the strength and the beauty in their scars and in having heartache and pain and I hope that they can celebrate that with me and celebrate that life is really tough and that it's a really cool and beautiful and hopeful and uplifting thing to acknowledge that and then to take all that and to be able to make it into art and do something cool with it. I think that is what I hope they take away from that. I hope it inspires somebody to follow their own dream, whether it's opening the best diner - whatever their crazy dream is - just to go for that and not worry about security and 401k and buying a house and all these things we think we have to do and that they just choose to do something that they're passionate about and that they love and really, really give it 100%; when they think that they're giving it 100%, dig deep and give it another 100% and good things will happen.