Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Sarah Jane Nelson
Now, as a Nashville-based singer and songwriter, she’s weaving her life experiences with universal truths to tell stories of her own.
“For many years, I was terrified to be truly vulnerable in my songwriting. I was used to playing a part. As an actor but also in my personal life in the role of the happy wife with the perfect family. When I finally filed for divorce, the facade crumbled and I was left with the task of picking up the pieces and building a new life. It was scary to write my last record, “I’m Not Broken,” but when I released it, I got daily emails from new fans telling me that they cried as they listened as it felt like I was singing their story. Reading those messages each day, hearing that my music provided comfort and hope, I felt empowered to go even deeper with this new record and be fearless in giving voice to the stories of those who have felt unheard and under-represented for a long time.”
Nelson’s latest release, “Shelby Park,” includes songs about marriage, divorce, motherhood, beauty, and self-acceptance. She even tackles the issue of sexual assault with the hauntingly brave and beautiful, “Smile Pretty.” Straddling the worlds of Americana and Classic Country, she sings truthfully and from the heart.
Born in southern Arkansas, Sarah Jane grew up with loving parents who would flirt and sing in harmony to 1960’s break-up songs by Elvis Presley and Skeeter Davis. Summers were spent with her Mammy and Pappy traveling to bluegrass festivals in their motorhome, the little curly-haired girl dancing to the fiddles and banjos, embraced by the tight-knit bluegrass community. Her father’s work takes the family to the bayou of Monroe, Louisiana, and the utopia is interrupted when her idyllic home breaks up, rocked by infidelity that nobody saw coming. Her world turned upside down, she retreats to the radio, back to her sad country songs, stories woven around her pain.
A month after high school graduation, Sarah Jane won America’s Miss T.E.E.N. beauty pageant, moved to NYC, and started performing in plays and musicals. Within a few short years, she made her Broadway debut in Julie Taymor’s “The Green Bird.” Then life took priority over career, she got married, had children, moved to Nashville, and then got divorced. As a newly single mother, Sarah Jane turned back to the country and gospel music from her childhood, writing her way to resilience, through grief, and toward love.
Nelson’s latest effort, Shelby Park, was recorded at The Rukkus Room and Monster Studios in Nashville and produced by Sarah Jane Nelson, Jamie Tate (Taylor Swift, Thomas Rhett & Justin Moore,) and Brian Irwin (Doug Seegers, India Ramey). Sarah Jane wrote 7 songs and paired up with “I’m Not Broken” co-writer Kenny Foster for 3 tunes. For the heartfelt love letter from mother to child, “Mama Loves You” Nelson teamed up with fellow single-mom and East Nashville songwriter, Katie Boeck.
Sarah Jane has been a finalist for the International Songwriting Competition, Kerrville New Folk Festival, and MerleFest’s Chris Austin Songwriting Competition. She regularly plays shows at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
Prior releases include “I’m Not Broken”, lauded by Wide Open Country “Sarah Jane Nelson channels a little Loretta Lynn attitude on her fiery new song “Reap What You Sow.” Only rather than warning her man’s mistress that she “ain’t woman enough” to take her man, she’s practically begging her to take him off her hands.” Other full length albums include A Little Bit of Everything, Saving Grace, Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues, and A Country Christmas.
Although her career and musical influences span a wide range, Sarah Jane Nelson is no straightforward theatrical talent, trying on a costume of a genre. The songs on “Shelby Park” come from a decidedly Americana truth: from a single mother hanging onto a dream through unexpected changes, from a singer returning to the land and music of her childhood, from a keenly observant writer telling the stories of others born out of her own specifics.
Nelson’s childhood influences ring loud as one can hear hints of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Wynonna Judd, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
“In the last couple of years as I’ve become focused on my songwriting craft and personal development work, I’ve been getting much more comfortable in my own skin. I feel like that comes through in this new record. Every song has a bit of me and a bit of the stories I’ve heard along my way. My goal is to write from my truth while illuminating universal truths that help women feel heard and seen. In sharing myself, I share their stories as well.”
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