Monday, December 21, 2015

Interview Flashback- Catching Up With Actress, Artist & Songwriter Sherrie Austin

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in September 2009 on The 9513.

Mrs. Edna Garrett would be proud.

Few people in the entertainment business can tout the breadth of work that Sherrie Austin already has behind her, and even fewer people can say they’ve done it all still in their 30’s. Born Sherrie Krenn in Sydney, Australia, to a country music loving family that would travel regularly across the country to various music festivals, her first big break occurred at the ripe old age of 13. Her version of "Jolene" and "Queen of Hearts" caught the ears of the right Australian country music bigwigs and by the age of 14, she was touring with Johnny Cash. Then, in 1987, NBC asked her to appear on one of their longest running hit shows and she would take on the role of Pippa McKenna on The Facts Of Life. She’d go on to star in a Wonderful World of Disney movie called Exile, guest star on Fresh Prince of Bel Air and even appear in two feature film movies- Shadows of the Heart (1990) and An American Summer (1991).

But country music kept calling and for awhile, Austin shelved her acting ambitions. She moved to Nashville in the mid-nineties and in 1997, was signed to Arista Records where she released two albums and charted several hits including “Lucky In Love,” “One Solitary Tear,” “Put Your Heart In It,” “Never Been Kissed,” and “Little Bird.”  On her fourth album, this one on Broken Bow Records, she would have her biggest hit, a top 20 tearjerker called “Streets of Heaven.” 

But in 2005, the acting bug bit again, this time in New York on Broadway. She was cast as the lead role Bonnie in The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde and then had a starring role in the Johnny Cash musical tribute Ring of Fire in 2006. Her performances were well-received.  “Austin attacks her songs with gusto,” said Matt Murray of Talkin’ Broadway in his review of her role as Bonnie.

These days, Sherrie Austin finds herself back at her first true love, country music songwriting.  She’s recently had songs recorded by George Strait, (“Where Have I Been All My Life” off of Twang), Blake Shelton, (the title track off of Startin’ Fires), Emily West, (“That Kind Of Happy” off her upcoming disc), and others including Trick Pony, Danielle Peck, Blue Country, Ronnie Milsap, Dolly Parton, Tammy Cochran, Hal Ketchum, Joe Nichols and Tim McGraw. 

The one constant in a wide array of mediums (theater, television, motion pictures and recordings) is a passion she brings to what she does every day.  When she looks at the path that passion has followed, she jokes, “The only two things I haven’t done in my life is porn or gospel.”

Ken Morton, Jr.- You nearly began your career opening up for Johnny Cash down in Australia- what was that experience like?

Sherrie Austin- I was almost 15 years old and had been playing country music for some time at all the different festivals. He came to the township where we lived and he did a big concert there and I got to be his opening act. That was the start of it for me. I got to be known around Australia. I ran into him a few years ago again in Nashville and I wasn’t sure he’d remember me. I said, “Hey, Johnny, I don’t know if you’d remember me but I’m the young girl who opened up for you in Australia.” He said, “Yes! Of course I remember you. You were the little girl who used to wear a bright red cowboy hat.” It was so very flattering that he remembered me all those years later. 

KMJ- Things kind of came full circle for you honoring The Man In Black on Broadway a couple years ago, didn’t they?

SA- It’s true. I can’t get away from him. (Laughing) I went to Broadway and did a show called Ring Of Fire which honored his life and music. We did basically every major song he ever recorded. It was kind of a review more than an actual play. 

KMJ- You’ve had such an interesting career, covering so many different entertainment genres. What’s been your favorite, television, movies, Broadway or musician?

SA- I have done quite a lot of stuff now that you mention it. I love all of it, but I think in my heart of hearts, I’m a songwriter before everything else. But I do still love to sing live. I do love theater as well. But I think songwriting is my true first love. 

KMJ- How is performing on Broadway different from doing a country concert show?

SA- Gosh, it’s two different worlds and two very different audiences. As a songwriter, of course, I’m performing something I’ve written. And obviously in the theater, like a show like Ring Of Fire, I’m bringing to life the songs of someone else. That’s probably the biggest different. They’re so different, I can’t really pick between the two. They’re both extremely challenging and I love that about both. I’ve not just done country music themed theater; I’ve done the theater-theater stuff too. They’re just both totally different. The thing about me, is I like to do a lot of totally different things. I’m not the kind of person who’s just done one thing. I enjoy wearing this hat one day and a different hat the next. I want to explore all different facets of the entertainment business-TV, film, theater, pop music and country music. I grew up in the entertainment business so I like to do all of it. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done and I the only thing I know. I’ll try everything. 

KMJ- On your last album, you had a big hit single called “Streets Of Heaven” about a conversation with God not taking a sick child. I know it’s been “adopted” by some charities as themes. What’s that experience been like?

SA- Some of them are very heartbreaking as you can imagine. It’s loosely based on a situation in my own family with my own brother.  He was very ill and we nearly lost him when he was a baby. We lived a lot of stuff through other people, especially kids with cancer. St. Judes got really involved with that song and we raised a lot of music with it. It’s not an easy song to sing. Although people love that song, it’s my least favorite song to sing live because it’s just heartbreaking. But people always request it and it means a lot to different people going through those situations. So I always do it when anyone asks. 

KMJ- Having such an emotional and personal tie to you, I’d imagine that’s one reason why it proved to resonate with people that way it did.

SA- I think you’re right. 

KMJ- One of your more recent songs is Blake Shelton’s title track from his latest album, Startin’ Fires. Does he owe you a new Mercedes or anything like that yet for that song?

SA- I’ve learned to be pretty laid back about that kind of stuff. I wait until the check is actually in the mail. It is nice to dream, though, I’ll tell you that. The last couple of years have been great getting cuts by other artists. I write a lot for guy artists which has been a tough thing to do. I think I like to do a lot of stuff that people say I can’t do. I started out one day and said, “I’m going to write boy songs just to see if I can.” There’s the song by Blake Shelton and one we just got on George Strait’s new album, TWANG. It’s been a wonderful year. 

KMJ- I had thought that was interesting with most of your songs being cut by guy artists lately. Has that been a focus of yours or has it happened more by circumstance?

SA- I think that when I finally figured out that I wasn’t going to be a recording artist myself, I looked around and thought that if I was going to be a songwriter, I need to learn how to do it all. I just wanted to do both. I’m kind of sick of writing girl songs because I’ve done it for so long. I just needed a new challenge. So I just set out to learn from the best of the writers in our business somehow. And strangely enough, those are the ones that are being cut. I think I’ll have to go learn how to write a girl song again. 

KMJ- Walk me through your writing process. Is it melody lyrics or concept first?

SA- It’s always different. I usually start with a title or an idea but that’s not always the case. Melody usually comes along with the lyrics but it’s always different. With the George Strait song, my co-writer has that title and we spent the better half of a year working on that one. It wasn’t an easy song to write. And the Blake Shelton song “Startin’ Fires,” I actually dreamed it. I had a dream right before the writing session that I was on a beach writing a song with Kenny Chesney called “Startin’ Fires.” And I had the chorus, melody and hook in my head when I went to the writing assignment. That was a very strange experience. Kenny Chesney was there, so I don’t know what that means. (Laughter)

KMJ- There’s some new music by you and unreleased songs and demos on the Melrose Entertainment website, anything that you think has major hit potential?

SA- There’s a song called “He’s All Yours” that hasn’t been cut yet that I’m really excited about. And there’s another that I did by myself called “Get Your Leavin’ Done.” 

KMJ- Are we ever going to hear a new music CD from Sherrie Austin?

SA- If I did anything, it might be a songwriter’s CD. But not as an artist. Not to go out and tour and do all of that again. It was fun, but I enjoy more writing for other people than I ever did myself. I don’t think I’ll be doing that anytime soon. 

KMJ- One of your songwriting partners is Mallary Hope who has a new single cracking the charts right now. Have you two worked together a lot?

SA- Yes, I’ve worked with Mallary quite a bit. She’s got a new single out called “Love Goes On.” Mallory is a wonderful writer and a brilliant singer. I really believe in her a lot. 

KMJ- What’s next for Sherrie Austin? You’ve had such an adventure thus far, I’m sure you’ve got a Mount Everest climb or something else planned, don’t you?

SA- Heavens. The music business is like climbing Mount Everest every day. I’m just writing and writing and trying to get cuts on albums just like every other writer in town. If you get a cut one day, you have to do it all over again the next day. I’d love to do Broadway again. I go up there every once and awhile and hang out with my New York friends. I think when the right thing comes along, I’ll definitely do that again. 

KMJ- What is country music to Sherrie Austin?

SA- It’s the truth. It’s absolutely the truth. It’s my favorite genre of music to write because of that. I look forward to writing country songs because you can just tell it like it is. You don’t have to be complicated about it. It’s just three chords and the truth. 

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous place, I just went here with someone. The place itself was beautiful and spacious, the seats were comfortable and wide. From where I was sitting at venues in Chicago, the views were great. I think the music really did a great job of filling up the space.