First Published July 2018
SABRINA’S ALL-SMILING, ALL-SINGING, ALL-DANCING SOUL
If you’re a country music fan and you haven’t yet heard Portumna native Sabrina Fallon sing, then do yourself a favour, and do whatever it takes to change that. Because hearing Sabrina sing will renew your love for country. And then double it, and triple it every time you hear her sing again after that. And that’s not a bad deal! Sabrina has a voice that purrs with the rhythm of traditional country music in every syllable that leaves her lips, you could close your eyes and imagine yourself in some low-lit, smokey, half-alive honky-tonk when she’s behind the mic. And more than that, as with so many of the greatest entertainers, Sabrina’s vibrant personality lights up a room in the same way her voice seems to magically hush one. In other words, completely naturally.
But listen, if you haven’t heard her sing yet, don’t just take my word for it. Sometimes you have to hear it for yourself to really understand it. Find where she’s playing near you, and listen to her. Then you’ll get it.
Sabrina’s latest single is one of country’s great standards and the story of one of the genre’s most admired artists, Loretta Lynn. When we caught up for a chat last week I asked her to tell me about why she decided to record ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’…
“Well I’ve always loved Loretta Lynn, she’d be a huge role model for me. As far as the real old style of country goes, I think she just has one of the most powerful voices. And I love how she tells a story through each song. She literally bared her soul in songs, she was wide open. So, when my dad got sick last year I was very upset – because I’d be very close to my dad and my mam – so I decided to record something just to show how much love I had for them. I actually posted it [a recording of the song] on Facebook one day. I was working on an art project and I was listening to Loretta, and I just walked out to the next room to do it. I didn’t have any make-up on, I think I had my pajamas on! [laughs]. I did a quick recording of it and put up the video and a lot of people gave me really good feedback. And I got a message from Trudi Lalor saying, ‘You should really record that [in a studio], that song really suits you.’ I wanted to do it anyway, and would have at some stage, but that gave me the push to do it. I’m very aware of how hard mam and dad worked with the seven children, it wasn’t easy back in the day. And I’m very proud of who I am, even if we’re not millionaires [laughs], no more than most people, ya know. We are who we are. I just think it’s a phenomenal song, I love it.”
Her ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ release boasts a further five excellent recordings, but with so many amazing country songs out there to choose from, how did she narrow her choice down to these particular ones?
“Oh God! Right, o.k. Well there’s David Ball, and for me he’s such a fantastic songwriter. I have two of his on the cd, ‘You Go, You’re Gone’, and ‘Louisiana Melody.’ The first of those was actually brought to me by someone who said he thought it would really suit me, so I recorded it, it’s a good jive. Then when I heard ‘Louisiana Melody’ I fell absolutely in love with it. I think people like to hear happy songs because they bring joy to the listener, and that’s important. However, I do also like to sing songs that I’m emotionally connected to, and ‘Send It On Down’ by Lee Ann Womack is one of those. I was in California one day, driving around the Sierra Nevada mountains, and I was in this bar in the middle of nowhere. There was peanuts all over the ground, you literally ate your peanut then fired it on the ground. And there were horses outside and everything! It was the back of beyond! [laughs]. But I heard the first two lines of this song on the radio, and I put down my fork and knife and I was like, oh my God, I have to find out what that song is! Because I hadn’t heard it before. The waitress didn’t know, but she went to great extremes trying to find out for me. So I took down a couple of lines on a tissue, cos’ she didn’t have any paper [laughs], and I brought it back to San Francisco (where Sabrina was living at the time) and Googled it, and found out in the end that it was Lee Ann. I thought it was one of the most beautiful songs ever. ‘Deeper Than The Holler’, by Randy Travis, I learned the lyrics to that that driving around the Sierra Nevadas as well over the years. Each of those songs probably has a bit of the story of my life to them, I suppose.”
One thing that really stands out about Sabrina is that when it’s a happy, uptempo song she’s performing, she’s able to bring that emotion to life in every word. But likewise, when it’s a sad, or slower song, she has a magnificent ability to put that pain, or hurt, or heartache into every word, too. How does she manage to place herself so deeply inside of a song?
“I don’t know, if I’m honest. It’s probably to do with the road travelled [in life], I’ve a bit of a long road gone already [laughs], but much more to go, mind you! [laughs]. I’m guessing it’s to do with old wounds with the emotional songs, I can draw on those experiences from my own life. I don’t think I could really have been emotionally connected to my songs at the age of eighteen or nineteen.”
Sabrina’s career, in the sense of being on the road and singing every week, week-in and week-out, really only kicked into gear after her time as a contestant on Glor Tire. Was she surprised by how quickly it all started to develop then, and what’s life like now that she is out on the road almost every weekend? Does she enjoy it?
“Yeah, I do. And this might sound a little airy-fairy, but I’m very much of the belief that if I look after today, the universe will look after everything else. I didn’t look too much into the future, this wasn’t my ‘plan’, ya know? I’ve always known that I wanted to sing and make a career out of it, but because I was in college, and then because I was raising my daughter on my own because my husband had passed away, those things were priority at the time. And then I was travelling a lot, too. But when I finished with college – which was five years long, so it was a long journey in itself – I decided that I wanted to pursue my music career then. So it was all perfect timing. I had finished college, I was in San Francisco, I had applied for Glor Tire, and I got a phone call to say I had been accepted. So I flew home thinking right, I’m just gonna stay put now, I’m gonna put everything into this. And I did, and I have, and I am. And it’s paying off, I think. Now I’m not the only person working hard! Every single person on the music scene works hard, it doesn’t just happen. I love it. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy heading out on your own with your van and your P.A. system, and you’ve got to set it all up and make sure the sound is right, and learn as you go sometimes! [laughs]. And driving home at night-time, not that I’d be nervous or scared or anything, but it’s a long aul’ haul. But it’s the same as someone working during the day nine-to-five, it’s a long day that just so happens to be at night-time. And because I have my daughter as well… but the good thing is I get to stay with her during the week. At the weekends sometimes she’s going to bed when I’m heading out for my nights. But when I sing, something inside me dances in my soul. If I’m down, I go singing. It really, really helps me along the way. I think it’s one of the most beautiful gifts ever. I’m lucky to be able to feel the music as well as sing it.”
Now, most people probably won’t be aware of this yet – and hopefully that’s something that will change in the not too distant future – but Sabrina is also a seriously talented songwriter….
“Ah, you’re very sweet, thanks! [laughs]. Well do ya know what, I wrote that song I know you’re talking about [her own song, ‘It’s Not That She Don’t’] when I was in a lot of pain one day. I just picked up a pen and paper and it came out. I went to the studio and worked with a gentleman called Pete Duffy, he has a great set-up here in Galway. If you bring him an original song, he’ll help you with some melodies and work on it, and record it. Then I sang it at an open-mic down in Galway, at the Roisin Dubh, and I couldn’t stop crying for the whole song! [laughs]. So yeah, you’re talking about different levels of exposure. And that [singing your own song] is total exposure. When I’m singing a big, happy jive I’m showing one side of me, and then when it’s a vulnerable song like that, you’re definitely exposing yourself. I have a few more songs written. I actually went to Neil Young’s house, and I jumped on his electric gate to climb over it [laughs], it’s a wooden gate with two big bull horns on the front of it, I don’t know how I didn’t get electrocuted! [laughs]. The melodies he has to his music, particularly ‘Silver and Gold’, that album, that’s something like what I’d love for one of the songs I’ve written, probably the most personal song I’ve ever written in my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring it out. I probably will. But I’d like some beautiful melody to go with it. I think the melody is very important.”
So would she write very much or often?
“Lately, I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like, but I have in the past, yeah. Sometimes I’ll be driving along in the car and something will come to me and I’ll record it on the phone. So I have bits and bobs all over the place! It’s definitely a project I need to investigate more, that I really enjoy doing. But my finger is in so many pies, it’s just about getting the time.”
When it comes to the music business and finding her way through it, Sabrina is perhaps a little bit luckier than most in that she can call on her cousin, who also happens to be one of the biggest and most loved artists on the scene, for advice. And that just happens to be Mike Denver! What has it been like seeing Mike’s success grow to the level he’s at today, and also, how helpful has it been having him there to turn to for advice along the way?
“It makes a dream factual, is what it does [having Mike there]. You might see somebody who’s a big star and you’d say, ‘God, how did that actually happen?’, like, how does someone become a big star, ya know? But I watched Mike from the very start, from before anybody knew who he was. I have this picture somewhere, I don’t know where it is, but Mike is maybe five years old and he’s sitting playing the guitar. And I’m there in the picture with him, and I remember thinking at the time, because there’s not much between us in age, oh my God would you stop making noise, you’re annoying me! [laughs]. But he’s always been into music. His mum, Roisin, is such a great singer, and he went on the road with her. But then I went travelling, and I’d keep hearing from home that Mike was doing great, he’s gone out on his own, and he’s doing this and he’s doing that. And then I came back home and I saw what he was like, and it was just, wow! Janey mac, like. Everybody knew Mike Denver! But I know that came from hard work, it’s hard graft. It didn’t just come to Mike. Mike went and got it. He worked hard, and he still works hard. You don’t get to stay where he is now, at that level, without working hard, too. You have to sacrifice a lot to maintain what you’re doing. Mike is great, and for Glor Tire (where Mike was Sabrina’s mentor) he was very good to me. He wouldn’t be the type to shove anything down your throat. Mike has kept his humility, his feet and his personality are still very much on the ground. He’s still just Mike around Portumna, in how he is and how he’s seen, and I think that’s very, very important. He’ll give you advice, but let you do your own thing as well. And he’ll tell me if it’s any good or not, too! [laughs]. And Roisin is very good with advice as well, and my own mam and dad, of course. Sure dad has been playing music his whole life. And my brothers are all in bands. There’s lots of music in the family. Plenty of advice flyin’ around, so there is! [laughs].
As Sabrina’s own popularity and fanbase continues to grow, there’s undoubtedly a lot of people out there who’d love to be able to listen to her sing whenever the mood takes them. So can we look forward to her first official album soon?
“That’s so nice to hear. Absolutely, I would love to do an album. I mean it’s definitely not going to happen this year. I’d like to predict next year for sure, to have an album. It’s kind of a daunting thing, really. But for me, I’ve never let fear be a reason not to do something! [laughs]. It will definitely happen. I’ve got almost an album’s worth of songs recorded, but there’s certain ones that maybe I wouldn’t put on, and more that I’d want to mix around a bit, and there’s a few more up my sleeve [to record]. It would just have to be the right time, and done right, before I’d do it.”
As our time together came to an end, and Sabrina’s van waited to be packed for another busy weekend of performances, we ended with a question that’s somewhat of a time-honoured for singers: If she could record a duet with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? And we ruled out Neil Young as her first choice, given that her devotion to him made it too easy an answer!
“Ah no! I had my answer there already! [laughs]. All right, o.k….that’s a tough question now. Randy Travis, I have a huge admiration for him. And Charley Pride, and Merle Haggard, those old country singers. And if you’re talkin’ female, well Loretta Lynn, yeah! It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but for me that new country [‘bro’-country’, Luke Bryan et al], pop-country, which is huge and which lots of people love, I’d just be going more for the old-school. Like Crystal Gayle, Mike travelled with her on tour, and I’m in awe of that. I couldn’t with Neil Young because I’d faint or I’d collapse! [laughs]. Oh, and Leonard Cohen as well, a fantastic songwriter. Good question!”