Growing up in a family where both her father and grandfather played guitar it was only a matter of time before Florida born Sonia followed suit. Moving to Alabama aged seven when her family split, the country music she heard thanks to her parent’s record collection (the likes of Loretta and Willie) have always influenced her as an artist but her eclectic musical taste (she is a fan of artists as wide ranging in styles as Springsteen, Ozzy Osbourne, Alanis Morissette and Sia) are definitely evident in her writing, particularly on her 2018 album “ Mad Hatter” .
Having been signed to Zac Brown’s record label in the past (she co-wrote their hit songs “Sweet Annie” and “Goodbye In Her Eyes”) she is now recording as an independent artist. A frequent visitor to the UK and a real fan of our growing country scene (she has even recorded an album at our very own Abbey Road Studios alongside several UK artists ) Sonia is set to play the first in the new series of “Nashville Meets London Songwriters Series“ next week. What better time to ask her a few questions?
1.LH I like to paint a picture and always start by asking artists where they are as they’re replying to my questions…….
SL I am currently sitting having a coffee at the table in Battersea Park where I am staying with a friend while I am in the UK.
2.LH You have a very loyal UK fan following, plus have built great relationships with many of our own country artists on your trips here (Katy Hurt in particular I gather?). Did our love of the genre come as a surprise when you first visited the UK…..and what can you remember about that initial trip?
SL The first time I toured the UK was with a very talented young lady, Sasha McVeigh. We toured all over England and it was a wonderful introduction and experience that led to the next chapter of my journey in the UK music scene. On that tour I witnessed a growing interest, curiosity, and a thirst for the country music market. However, I felt that the image that was being portrayed was mostly more traditional, due to a lack of exposure. I was surprised that some of America’s most well known Country artists were not even heard of here. Over the last 4-5 years I have witnessed a bridge being built that has exposed England to the US country music market. I’ve seen more festivals popping up featuring country music along with a country music radio presence developing. I have also observed the progression in the UK’s country music artists themselves and their approach. Sasha now lives in Nashville, performs in all the legendary venues on Broadway, and is working on her record. I am so proud of her!
3.LH And you’ve even recorded an album at our iconic Abbey Road studio as mentioned in the introduction. How amazing to follow in the steps of so many icons! It was a spur of the moment opportunity you understandably couldn’t say no to I gather?
SL I was wrapping up a tour with The Broken Witt Rebels in the winter of 2017 and thought it would be a great experience to get all of my UK music friends together after the new year. We captured some very special music moments. What an honor to work in the same studio where so many legendary artists have set foot. Chris Bolster is an incredible engineer. It was an amazing mad house of 20 musicians and artists smashed together to make a live record in a single 10 hour session. I hope to rerelease the record digitally very soon. There are only select few physical copies available as I wanted this to be a very special limited time release.
4.LH And you’re back here very soon to play an intimate, acoustic set in London…..quite different to rocking out as you so often do on stage but hopefully you also enjoy the experience of connecting with an audience and playing songs as they were initially conceived ?
SL Yes I really enjoy sitting down and getting down to the bare bones of my music. That is how it all started. It’s a different approach and sometimes people connect in a different way to hear things in an acoustic environment. I think Feb 19th will be a special night at The Pizza Express. I am so excited to be apart of Nashville Meets London’s Songwriters Series.
5. LH As well as songs from your back catalogue are we likely to hear any as yet unrecorded ones? Maybe testing them out on us?
SL I will probably play some songs that I don’t normally get to play out with the band and some new ones as well as some you may have heard before.
6. LH Talking of your back catalogue, it’s been a year or so since the release of “Mad Hatter”, and I’m interested to know if there’s any songs from it that you have been especially enjoying performing live or maybe that have got a particularly good response from your audiences?
SL I was very surprised that the Title track “Mad Hatter” has been requested so much. It is a very vulnerable song for me and I almost did not put it on the record at all then it became the title of the album.
I also really love playing “Shelter”. I actually performed it at a friends wedding recently in Italy. That was a super special moment to see my friends dancing so in love to a song that is totally about finding that person you can get lost in the adventure of life with. “Waste The Day” is one of my favourites to perform live its just super fun to rock out to.
LH That’s my favourite from Mad Hatter !
7. LH You’re now recording as an independent artist….are you enjoying the freedom that gives you musically and the ability to be more hands on with the entire process ( I see you both co-produced and co-engineered “Mad Hatter“)
SL Yes! I am having a blast! I am loving getting to explore myself as an artist, a songwriter, and now learning slowly how to engineer. It is a new challenge that I am really obsessed with. I love getting lost for days in my Logic Pro X worm hole experimenting with sounds and learning new things about the program.
8. LH How would you say your sound has changed since your first album in 1998?
SL I have always had a very eclectic style. I think what has changed since 1998 is experience, exposure, maturing, confidence, along with my ability and willingness to explore and expand on these sides of my writing.
9. LH You’ve been living in Nashville five years now I gather. Most artists I’ve asked have said the female country music community there are very supportive of one another at a time when they are having a tough time in many respects. Is this your experience so far and do you now see Music City as your home?
SL I moved to Nashville 7 years ago. I signed my lease on Halloween! I have definitely seen the ladies in Nashville come together to show each other love and support. It’s a really amazing community. Mostly everyone including the gentleman are helpful and willing to lend a hand to each other. I am very privileged to call Music City my home. It’s grown so much since I have been here, and continues to grow rapidly!
10.LH And what’s in store for you for the rest of 2019?
SL When I leave England I head to perform at the Legendary Eddies Attic in Atlanta Georgia on March 8th. Eddies is where I first got my start at 17 years old along with the likes of John Mayer, Sugar land, and many other famous artists and songwriters. It’s such an incredible venue. Then I am so excited to head out for my third year on The Melissa Etheridge Cruise at the end of March. I am taking Katy Hurt and her band with me, hoping to showcase her on my stages. This year I am mostly focused on my songwriting and my side project. I hope to return for the Black Deer Festival in June and hope to work more often with the students at Supa Jam.
LH Thank you for your time, see you next Wednesday!
As I’m typing this there are very limited tickets still available for Sonia’s London show next week, there’s a ticket link and more information about Sonia at www.sonialeigh.com
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)