If there’s one word that can be used to describe Sara Petite, it’s spitfire. This country-rock veteran has seen her share of heartache, but she makes it clear that she knows how to have a good time.
Sara just released a video for her new single, ‘The Misfits’, and her sixth full-length CD Rare Bird will be out on February 26. We recently caught up with her to find out more about her new release and her career in general. Here’s what she had to say.
Tell us how you started out in music. What made you pick up a guitar and decide you wanted to be a star?
I learned piano as a kid. In college, I picked up the guitar for a hobby and one day started writing my own songs. I didn’t plan to be a musician but started performing, and my grandma wanted me to record my songs. I had scheduled a recording too, but she passed away, so I canceled it to go back home. A few months later, I recorded my first album Tiger Mountain, which is where my father’s family is from, and it was a tribute to her. Six albums later, here I am.
What makes you gravitate to the sort of Americana/Country style you play?
I play whatever I write, be it rock ‘n’ roll, old country, bluegrass, old-time, pop, or punk. It’s whatever comes up in my head and floats around. I really love rock ‘n’ roll, but I know my voice is country.
What inspires you most when it comes to songwriting? And how does the songwriting process work best for you?
I feel things very deeply and have been through a lot in my life. A lot of my writing is inspired by my own life. Sometimes it comes out right away. One of my favorite songs from my first album, Huckleberries, just wrote itself in fifteen minutes basically; the music was there, and the words all fell on the paper. I don’t really remember doing a bunch of editing. Other songs take a lot of work. Some songs, the idea, and feeling have to ruminate and roll around in my head for quite a while. I don’t know which comes first, the melody or the lyrics. It kinda feels like it all does at the same time. But who knows. It all seems kind of magical. My life has played out like a country song. I’ve had some really deep heartaches, which was kind of like a snowball rolling downhill—heartache after heartache. I’ve also had the greatest life ever and feel really thankful. I guess you write what you know.
In your years in the music industry, have you seen a change in attitude towards woman musicians? If so, how?
I played a show once in town where the guy running it had me get up and then wanted me to go sit down halfway through, while his good-time-good-old-boys-club buddy came up drunk as a skunk and sang a few. Hell yeah, people expect us to take the back seat, always be nice, not say what we think while guys run us over or play overtime when it’s our turn. There’s no way I could get away with how I’ve seen men behave. Even telling the truth right now, there’s probably some guy without confidence who can’t see both sides getting mad at man-hating little old me. But I’m really not. I love men. I just think we deserve a more equal chance. Women and men will say they like a guy’s voice or song’s over women. For years and years, our ears have gotten used to men over women because that is what we’ve been fed.
Has it changed? Those good-time-back-slapping unevolved; it only matters if it comes out of a guy’s mouth—boys are still around. But it is changing! Sometimes I’ve called it out for what it is, and some of these people are my somewhat friends. But it has changed. And it’s our job to say something, and it is the industry’s job to do something about it.
On the other hand, I have had such amazing support from men, many men, who see me as a person. They see me and what I do as serious. So many wonderful men have helped me out in this business. In bands, sometimes men will talk over me or ask one of the guys a question that needs to be directed at me since I’m the boss. Sometimes when I go to festivals and I pull up and say I’m one of the bands, they ask me if I’m someone’s girlfriend. But I have learned to hire wonderful, respectful men.
There is so much good in the world; I try to move towards it as fast as possible but sometimes do a little bitching along the way. There are a lot of “let me downs” and disrespectful things still said to and about women. It’s just part of it; keep your head down and keep working unless you need to say something. And if you do, make it count. I know I just answered this question very honestly, and I feel a little uncomfortable. So, yes, it’s sometimes been difficult, but honestly, I have had a lot of great experiences with men.
This is my very favorite album to date. I think all my albums have a consistency to them. What you get is an authentic sound; there’s no faking what is and ain’t there. This is me, whether I always like me or not. When I play a set, I like to dip into different kinds of music. I get bored easily. I love to experience a range of feelings, rhythms, and different topics. I also love listening to what the instruments are doing. I love playing live because I play with such creative people, and I love directing them and I feel like I get my own show while I’m doing a show. I love to listen and see what they’ll do. I tried to create that on this album. There is more instrumentation on this album; I really love a lot of instrumental solos. I love rocking out with the band. I love feeling the emotion of the lyrics and have the music be part of it. The topics range from experiences with ayahuasca, healing, sex, broken hearts, dealing with demons, honesty, and learning to like who you are. To me, this album is a painting of where I’ve chosen to be for the last three years—my soul journey.
I see that your record release will be happening online. Have you been taking a lot of events online since the coronavirus? If so, what do you do to connect to fans to make up for a lack of live energy?
I’ve been doing most of my shows online. I believe in science and sacrifice for the greater good. To everything, there is a season. I prefer live shows, but this is where we’re at, so I adapt. The venue I’m playing at is one of my favorite venues to play. It is heartbreaking to play to an empty house. But the silver lining is other people who don’t live where I do get to experience my release party. Friends in Europe and different parts of the US can watch it. I get so excited to see people. This show will be different, but when I’ve done previous online shows, I can see who comes online, and it’s hard not to stop and say hi! I’m like a puppy when I see people I know. I really love a lot of people, and it’s so exciting and humbling the friends I’ve met through music.
The video for your new single “The Misfits” is a lot of fun. How did that unfold? Did you go in with a concept, or was it improvised?
“The Misfits” is about speaking your truth when it may not always be popular; it’s also about love. David Bianco, who produced the song before he passed, had said to me after I showed it to him, “Wow, I can really see who you are and your soul in this song.” It was so lovely that he saw me. Love is really the cure all. But it’s not some airy-fairy thing. Real love is judicious; love is patient, kind, and hard work. Real loyalty that doesn’t blur boundaries is a big deal. This came from an experience I had hanging out with some artists. We don’t always fit in, but I think artists, painters, great orators, people who stick their neck out and speak their truth, make this world more colorful and great. The video was supposed to be a parade of the misfits. Under COVID restrictions, we had to improvise. And somehow, I ended up looking like Little Stevie with a scarf on my head for part of it while I was rocking out. The ‘80s look with the tapes came from the guys who helped direct it. It just fit. We filmed most of it on a green screen. \They did a wonderful job, And so did my small cast of characters.
I understand you were raised in a Tulip farming town in Washington but now live in San Diego. Do you feel like your small-town roots are part of who you are as a musician? Or do you feel more inspired by your big city surroundings?
We were taught to work hard at a very young age and were raised with a lot of tough love. We grew up in the forest. I loved it. I miss it so much. It’s not really there anymore. My mother would kick us out until dinner, and we’d hang out in trees and the forest floor. It was so amazing. I can’t believe how I got to grow up. My parents did well for themselves but worked really hard from nothing to get there. They instilled an amazing work ethic in all of us. It wasn’t a perfect family. Sometimes it was very hard. But there was a lot of love in my family. And I had the fortune to grow up with a twin sister besides my older siblings, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Our town was small; my mother really pushed us to get out of it and go see the world. If you stay in one place your whole life, it’s hard to understand people from different places. I am happy I got out, but I love going home.
Tell us what’s coming up for Sara Petite in the new year as far as promoting your new album and other events and releases.
I can’t wait to keep playing, writing, and get back to live shows. I’m really itching to do live shows. But I think right now, we all have to adapt and see opportunity and possibility in a world that seems like it’s restricted. It’s just begging us to be more creative and think outside the box.