Meet country artist Sarah Leete. She's just released her first single, but is as savvy and determined as all get out. She'll be around - just like her country star heroes - for a long time yet
It is very rare for Music Love to cover artists who only have one single out in the world, but here we are doing just that. Why? Sarah Leete is a country artist who has been forging a career for years before releasing her song Safe on 1 September this year. Her musical pathway so far has been peppered with stepping stones that have made her ready to make her mark on the country music scene in Australia. She's humble, honours the sisterhood that have gone before her - both here and in the US - and is now ripe for the picking. Her sound is classic, comforting country at its best if the single is anything to go by, and Sarah will be releasing a brand new EP in November which was produced by the wonderful Catherine Britt. She's also recently opened for Australia's country darling Fanny Lumsden during her famous Country Halls tour. There are big things to come, and Sarah took a little time to chat to Music Love about her journey so far, and showed us how her optimism and drive could motivate a sloth.
What does music mean to you?
Music has been something I have been around my whole life, even though no one in my family plays instruments or sings professionally, it was drummed into me at an early age and has been part of me ever since. Growing up listening to the song writing of Cat Stevens and Fleetwood Mac, even my favourite movie was a musical – Calamity Jane. I had already started writing songs when I was given a guitar at twelve and taught myself to play it. It is the most natural thing to me and the only true way I can express myself.
You seem to be at the very beginning of your career in your music – but what have you done before releasing your single Safe?
It’s the beginning of my commercial career, but I have achieved a lot before now! I have written songs and played guitar since I was twelve or thirteen, I did some school shows, but only started performing seriously at pubs and small festivals in about 2011. I moved from the NSW Central Coast to work on a mixed farming property near Narrabri, NSW and also worked with a contract harvesting company all over the North West. I started performing seriously once I had finished up with the farming side of things. It is a great lifestyle but doesn’t give you much freedom to be young. I lost a heap of weight and started a personal training business in the local area which gave me the confidence to perform on the weekends at pubs, clubs and local events. I also recorded an acoustic demo CD of ten songs with Steve Newton in Tamworth to sell at gigs, because people wanted something to take home. After working seven days a week with my fitness business up at 4am most mornings and late nights on the weekends from playing cover gigs - sometimes three hours from home - I burnt myself out pretty bad and saw there was a decision I had to make. I always wanted to do music, even from high school, but couldn’t see how I could make it a full time gig. Now that I had some experience under my belt of performing, booking venues and self-management, with the small business aspect from my fitness business, I jumped right in, kicking it off as a full time musician in 2016 at the Academy of Country Music in Tamworth. I booked and promoted my first tour ‘The Central Australia Tour’ that year and also won a Young Regional Artist Scholarship through Arts NSW (Now Create NSW) which helped fund getting Safe to your ears!
How did you meet Catherine Britt?
I met Catherine at the Academy in Tamworth. It is something I wish I had done five years ago! We got to work with and meet people from every aspect of the industry and have some pretty cool experiences too! I was very excited to meet Catherine as I had admired her and loved her music. We (the student) performed to all the tutors and they picked their mentor groups, and I was lucky enough to be in hers! After the Academy, I applied for a Young Regional Artist Scholarship through Arts NSW (now Create NSW) to help fund my first release, and contacted Catherine about a letter of support. She suggested that she was looking to do a bit more producing after co-producing Melody Moko’s current record, and would love to work with me. Of course, I was thrilled. I wanted to make it a real point to make this recording different, and recording with Catherine, who has had such a successful career and a wealth of knowledge, was very exciting for me. She is such a strong woman and it was very inspiring to watch her do her thing!
You’ve been on tour with Fanny Lumsden – were you excited when you found out?
I love Fanny. Seriously. The woman is a complete boss! I could not be more excited to open her Country Halls Tour show in the local area! I love everything she stands for, and as someone who has worked on the land, and chose to live here in a small rural community, I cannot tell you the incredible impact it has to have her bring her Country Halls Tour to our little halls. I met Fanny in 2016 at the Country Music Festival in Tamworth after her show on the FanZone Stage. Her stage presence was incredible and I think I was equally impressed that she was rocking jeans mid summer!
She has been someone I have gone to for advice, and we have even crossed paths touring in Central Australia. It was great night in Mullaley (near Gunnedah, NSW) and I hope to do it again next year!
Who are your favourite women in music?
I am a strong believer in independence, being yourself and doing it on your own way. I drive up to six to seven hours sometimes one way for a gig and I am a podcast addict! If you haven’t heard the Music Love podcast – do it! I love it!
Fanny is someone I really look up to, for doing it all herself and getting the achievements that she has in the industry after working her face off. She is forging a path for others like me, and changing the game. It is so exciting to be a part of.
I also really like the American country music scene – maybe because it is so hard to crack, and the challenge for women to break through. There are so many women there I look up to – Kelleigh Bannen (she has a great independent music podcast called This Nashville Life) Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby, amazing songwriters and artists in their own right, and especially Maren Morris. I first heard of Maren Morris the first time everyone else did I guess, after Miranda Lambert (another fave) shared Maren’s single My Church on social media. What really got me about Maren was the road she took to getting where she is. She worked her ass off for ten years, releasing three albums in Texas before her Maren Morris EP and first label album Hero. She played to no one and did it often – something that happens to me, and something that happens to everyone. I love to dig back in the social media posts and YouTube clips and see how she got to where she is and the drive and path she took to get there. Social media is a breeding ground for comparison, especially [for] women. Something I have been guilty of - many of us have - but I feel like it is becoming a tool we can use to lift each other up and support each other. I’m not going to compare myself to Maren Morris, but I’m going to see what she was doing at the stage of the career I’m at and see how she got to where she is. The gatekeepers are disappearing and it’s easier now than it ever has been to get our music out to the world. The amount of opportunity we have at our fingertips is unfathomable. We can all be great, and there is room enough for everyone to lend a hand so we can stand strong together.
Next? I release my EP in November, tour the crap out of it to every part of Australia and start building a fan base to release an album to! I love driving, and I love meeting and bringing music to the small towns in Australia. My husband and I love to travel, and 2018 will be a year on the road, I believe. Paving my way and building the foundations of what I hope will be a long and successful career.