With yesterday being International Women's Day, this feels like the perfect week to have chatted with the fierce and fiery Sarah Potenza. During her set on Saturday night at Daytrotter Downs, Sarah slayed us all with her powerhouse, soulful vocals, which some of you may remember from Season 8 of The Voice. After her set, I complimented Sarah on her incredible performance, and that lead to an impromptu interview backstage at Daytrotter. In our chat, we talked about being badass boss ladies, moving to Nashville, being on The Voice, other great singer-songwriters, and more. Get to know more about Sarah Potenza now...
ANCHR Magazine: Can you start by telling me a little of your story, like your background and how you wound up in Nashville from Chicago?
Sarah Potenza: I’m from Rhode Island, moved to Chicago in 2003, and then I moved to Nashville in 2012. That’s pretty much it. I moved to Chicago pretty much because I got in a car accident, and I got $3000 for my old car. So I decided to move there on a whim, I was like Chicago, I don’t know, I like Rosanne…
AM: So what’s been your favorite city so far?
Sarah Potenza: I really love Nashville so far... I mean I love Chicago. It’s weird, when you move somewhere, you feel like you have multiple homes. Like Rhode Island will always be my home in my heart, but I will still long for certain parts of Chicago. For certain things, like Chinatown...being able to get what you want to eat at any hour. Ethiopian food at 2 in the morning...the dude on the corner in a wheelchair who barks at you. Chicago has these amazing things. When I was in my early 20s, I posed for a naked painting in Chicago. Things that you wouldn’t do at home or Nashville, which is more conservative. It’s the south. Chicago was a little more wild... I got pretty wild in Chicago. Nashville is more peaceful because I rent a house, I don’t have an apartment on the third floor in Chicago in Humboldt Park. It’s a different kind of environment. I really enjoy that it’s like a suburban city in a way, but I wish they had more eggrolls, They don’t have a lot of great food [in Nashville]. They have good food, but not Chicago food.
AM: So what about the venues, what are your favorite Nashville venues?
Sarah Potenza: I’ve gotten the opportunity to sing at the Grand Ole Opry a lot, which has been amazing. That has been just a dream come true for me. When you sing on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium...
AM: Ahh, I haven’t even been there yet but its on my list to go!
Sarah Potenza: Oh my god, you should! People are in the pews and the moonlight comes in from the stained glass windows and you feel the presence of like Loretta Lynn, and Patsy Cline. You just feel it, it’s incredible. I sing a lot at the Bluebird which I love. There’s a place called The Basement that I really love. There’s a of great places.
AM: So then who are some of your influences? I know you just mentioned Loretta Lynn.
Sarah Potenza:: Lucinda Williams is a big influence, I love her music.
AM: That was an awesome cover by the way [Sarah covered a Lucinda Williams song during her Daytrotter Downs set]
Sarah Potenza: I also really love Bette Midler, the kind of gaudiness and the showmanship like [sings example]. You know, I love that kind of energy and that kind of shiny jewelry and crazy everything. Definitely as a songwriter, Lucinda Williams. Somebody who throws down, Charles Bradley and Mavis Staples. The soulfulness. Really it’s just a mish-mash of different kind of things.
AM: Yeah for sure. So I have to ask, you were on The Voice. So how was that experience?
Sarah Potenza: It was actually a great experience because when you’re on a stage of that magnitude, it’s very challenging because you’re being scrutinized by people on your voice. So it’s not so much the energy and the performance, like tonight when there’s a live crowd and you’re performing for the spirituality of it, as much as it’s an execution of perfection. Even down to emotions, so you challenge yourself to execute things on a higher level and things you think you can’t do. You go out there and you do it in front of 20 million people and it helps you to grow. So it was really a great experience in that regard.
AM: Do you still keep in touch with any of the other artists that were on the show?
Sarah Potenza: I do! My friend Meghan Linsey lives in Nashville and I never would have met her if we weren’t on The Voice because she is a very polished pop singer [and] pop performer. She’s just like a sister to me and we’ve become such good friends. Seeing a different side of the industry and the way that she approaches songwriting, melodies, and approaches her look...it helps us each to grow, I think. When you’re around a lot of the same, you kind of do the same. So when you’re around people that are different you pick up different things from them. We’ve become really good friends. She’s the one I’m in the most touch with.
AM: What other artists are you really into at the moment?
Sarah Potenza: I’ve really gotten into Parker Millsap, who I recently did Cayamo with, which is a cruise. Like a songwriters cruise. Brandi Carlile...Buddy Miller, all these people who were on it that are amazing. I got on there, and I was so lucky to get on there. Parker Millsap was on it, and I assumed that he was gonna be more folk. He was like blues-rock, but not like cheesy, dad-jeans blues rock...blues rock that you wanna hear, like modern, indie blues. It was really refreshing and I really enjoyed his music.
AM: Anyone else?
Sarah Potenza: I also really dig this guy called Aaron Lee Tasjan. He was also on that, he’s a Nashville guy. I’m really digging his music. I’m also really getting into more pop stuff in a weird way. I really became obsessed with Lemonade, but like who didn’t? It was so empowering as a woman. To watch somebody show what it meant to be from the South, to be black, to be a woman. The problems that women have in relationships, in their job. It’s so interesting to see that even fucking Beyonce has those problems, so being a woman isn’t something you can escape. So no matter how high up you go. Like what happened with Clinton, you encounter these obstacles. It’s discouraging in one way because it’s like my god, even Beyonce has these problems, but it’s enlightening in a way to see somebody express these problems and be like goddamnit... and empowering women. To deal with those problems that we all deal with as women. It kind of blew my mind.
AM: Speaking of that when I introduced myself, you said you love supporting women in the industry, so do you have any advice or experiences you’ve learned from?
Sarah Potenza: It’s really important for women to lift each other up. To support each other and not knock each other down. For example, there is another really amazing soul singer in Nashville named Alanna Royale. We’ve become really good friends, and in my youth perhaps I would have been jealous of her or vice versa. As you get older you realize there’s room enough for everyone. Women kind of have this mentality where they wanna be the only one getting attention. Because we’re raised that way, because society treats us that way. It’s so important that we stick together. That we say 'hey listen, I got a deal from Mac Makeup, they’re sponsoring me, how about I hook you up?" or "hey I got this gig, it’s really great, I can’t make it, wanna do it?" Instead of keeping all these secrets to ourselves just because you don’t wanna see someone else rise.
AM: Yeah, I feel like the more you help people, the more you’re gonna get that back. It’s Karma…
Sarah Potenza: It’s so important. It’s Karma, and it also just encourages a behavior in the industry. I'm in the Americana Music Association, and I did a gospel show. I chose to pick all women, and I’ve done a bunch of lineups where I pick all women. Because we do get overlooked. I look at record labels..there are record labels in Nashville right now, and I won’t name names, but there are labels that have 7 women and 49 men. This is routine because women don’t sell as much as men, and there aren’t as many female musicians. It’s so much harder for us because it is a boy’s club. I learned to play guitar because I couldn’t get any guys to let me be in their band. I was like fuck it, I’m just gonna do it on my own. It makes a difference when I walk into a room, into a rehearsal, for me to be able to say it’s in this key, or no, do it like this. And to show what I’m trying to do on guitar... to talk about the chord progression.
AM: Yeah, and even your email address has "big boss" in it.
Sarah Potenza: It’s important for me. I like to be...I’m the boss. As a woman, that can be seen as oh well, she’s a bitch, she’s a diva. But if I was a guy, people would be like oh, that’s so sexy. So I don’t care. I’m doing my thing, you know.
AM: So how did you get this opportunity to play here?
Sarah Potenza: My publicist from my last record had hooked me up with Daytrotter to do a session. Then my booking agent just happened to have Gaelynn Lea playing [the festival] and I told them I really wanna do because I thought it was cool. A lot of times I do these gigs that are really great, but they’re not like the it, happening thing. I wanted to do this because it’s the happening thing.
AM: So you said earlier you don’t know a lot of these bands, but--
Sarah Potenza: I don’t know a lot of these bands, but I’m listening to them and it’s been great! I’m going to listen to my friend Lawrence Peters with his band tonight. It’s a new band...Velcro Lewis Group. I’m gonna go see them because he's a friend of mine from Chicago who used to be in band called The Lawrence Peters Outfit, which I think he still does. But it’s more country so this is something new for him.
AM: Cool! Lastly, what else is in store this year for you?
Sarah Potenza: I'm working on writing more, cause I love to write. I feel like I wrote my old record and got all that stuff out. I’m ready to write my next one. So writing, traveling around the country playing as many shows as I can. Getting my music out to as many people as I can. Writing and Traveling, that’s pretty much it.
AM: Do you record in a certain place?
Sarah Potenza: In Nashville, with Joe McMahan. It was the first time I used a producer and that was game changing for me because I didn’t know the things that I had to change to really get the best out of myself for the songs. Cause I’m so in it. So having a third party say, "this is too long, we need to drop a verse" or "what if this was a fast song and not a slow song?" You know? It was so worth every dollar. Game changer.