Sara Evans is Covering Whatever She Wants

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Music powerhouse Sara Evans has never been one to cave to the status quo. She’s never been one to stay quiet when there were things to be said. Moreover, she has never been one to deny her intuition. And last year, her intuition told her it was time to try something a little bit different, something a little crazier, something a little rebellious.

It was time to make a change.

“It got to a point where I basically knew that they weren’t going to play any of my new music on mainstream country radio,” she quietly recalls to American Songwriter. “I got to the point where I realized that I could do whatever the hell I want.”

And yes, she was ready to make a covers album.

“For the first time in my career, I felt like I didn’t have to stay in any certain genre,” she explains. “I don’t associate with the country genre anymore because I basically hate the music, at least the majority of it.”

This feisty side of the girl who grew up in rural Missouri and the woman who made her way to legendary status in Nashville can be heard within every note of Copy That, a 13-song record spanning six decades of songs that have shaped both her personal and professional life. 

“If I’m being totally honest, I would have to say it’s scary because everyone makes a cover record at some point and you just want to make it the best ever,” Evans says of the record, which is set for release on May 8. “I just can’t wait to see how my fans will react to hearing me sing some of these songs. All I can hope for is that they love it as much as I do.”

Making the move from Birmingham to Nashville in August 2019, Evans dove headfirst into the creation of the new record, choosing to work alongside famed producer Jarrad K for Copy That. 

“He was a producer that I just had been obsessing over,” Evans says of her co-producer, who previously worked with Weezer and the Goo Goo Dolls. “I knew he had produced the Ruston Kelly album and I just loved everything about that record, so I wanted to meet with him and work with him. I instinctively knew that by the time we were done with the covers record, we would become like family.”

And they did.

Just a month after moving her family to Nashville, work on Copy That began, with the entirety of October 2019 being spent in Jarrad’s home studio in East Nashville. 

“We basically were living with him,” says Evans, whose kids also lend their vocals and musical talents to the record. “That whole recording process is so bonding and there is just so much camaraderie. You become so close to the people you are working with. Jarrad is just so cool and has such a good heart. We became like family.”

Of course, their chemistry wasn’t a given.

“(Jarrad) is about 10 years younger than me, so I was really hoping that we would vibe on songs that we both liked,” laughs the 49-year-old legend. “I just kept picking songs that were not only popular, but pretty much undeniable.”

And while Evans said she put her total trust in what Jarrad could add to the collective sound of Copy That, she wasn’t about to lose the sound that she has been known for since breaking out on the country scene with “No Place That Far,” her first No. 1 single back in 1998.

“People that work with me know I’m going to be forceful about how I want my music to sound, because it’s my record,” Evans says. “(Jarrad) was completely down with that.”

Sort of.

“There were some mixes and a few songs that he tried that were really weird and really off the wall, where he was putting so much reverb on it that I couldn’t hear anything,” Evans confesses, chuckling at the recollection. “But he ended up coming around and told me, ‘You were right. It sounds so much better.’ But it’s true. If we are going to put a harmony in there or a guitar part in there and then you mix it so you can’t hear it, then why are we doing it? I was adamant about that.”

There were also many discussions about what songs should be on the record. For example, Evans and Jarrad had discussed covering the song “Hard Place” from H.E.R., but they ultimately kept being pulled back to the classics.

Sara Evans, Photo credit: LOWFIELD

“‘My Sharona’ was a no-brainer because I wanted to shock people,” Evans says. “I wanted people to be like, ‘I never thought Sara Evans would be singing “My Sharona” or “Come On Eileen.”’ It’s just songs I loved from my childhood.”

Once the songs were selected, discussion began as to how exactly they should be covered.

“Part of the reason we love these songs so much is how they sound, so I was more into the idea of ‘let’s copy them, but let’s make a modern copy,’” Evans explains. 

And while each of the songs went through a bit of a makeover, many sound like the classic Evans-esque songs that her fans have loved throughout her career such as “No Place That Far,” “Suds in The Bucket,” “Born to Fly,” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Take, for example, The Wallflowers’ classic “6th Avenue Heartache.”

“That Wallflowers song was a no-brainer,” she says. “That lyric about ‘the same black line that was drawn on you was drawn on me’ always gets me. I’m not sure what that means, but that lyric gets me every time. I mean, that one sounds like a Sara Evans song. ‘Crazy Love’ from Poco is the same thing. It sounds totally like a Sara Evans song.”

And while country music is something that Evans admits she’s branching out from, she did enlist the vocal stylings of Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet on the Stevie Nicks and Kenny Loggins classic “Whenever I Call You Friend.”

“Everything about Philip’s voice was just perfect for that song, and I have always sung so much like Stevie Nicks, so it just turned out really cool,” she explains. “I loved how raspy he sounds.  But he definitely worked hard on the really high part.”

But the diamond of the record, the one that will stick with Evans long after the listeners and the critics and the traditionalists stop listening, is her cover of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.”

“We considered starting the whole record with that,” Evans says. “It’s literally such a treasure. There were a lot of Patsy Cline songs we could have gone with but that one has always gotten to me. I have all these things, but she’s got you? I just love it.”

And, of course, there had to be a John Mayer song.

“I mean, my family is obsessed with John Mayer,” Evans explains. “He is one of the best guitarists and songwriters to ever live, so we knew darn well that we couldn’t really cover a John Mayer standard. It has to be something different.”

So with the help of her husband of 12 years, Jay Barker, Evans picked Mayer’s “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye.”

“That song is really special to my husband and me,” Evans reminisces. “When we were first married, Jay just came to me one day and said, ‘this is totally our song.’ It has a lot of sentimental value, that’s for sure.”

Of course, Evans still wonders aloud if she might have missed covering any songs that she would have wanted to this time around.

“You just have to call it done at some point, you know? There are just too many songs to choose from,” Evans says. “At some point, we would have driven each other crazy if we kept on looking. But every now and then, I’ll hear a song on an oldies station and I’m like, ‘dammit, I should have done that.’”

She laughs and hints that this predicament just might mean there is a second volume to this covers adventure. 

But first things first.

“Jarrad and I are getting ready to start our next project,” she says. “At this point, we will probably spend a year writing together. I can’t wait to start experimenting when it comes to my music. There are so many aspects to me musically that I haven’t been able to truly explore until now.”

She takes a deep breath, the deep and cleansing breath that Evans has taken countless times throughout her career. 

“I still have a lot of things I want to do, and a lot of things that I want to show people I can do,” Evans says. “In some ways, this is just the beginning.”

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