Interviews

Sierra Ferrell on Her Country Heart, Jazz Mind and Punk Rock Soul

Monica Murray

Rounder Records scored quite the coup in August with the signing of Sierra Ferrell, an artist aptly described in her Facebook bio as a "jingle-janglin gypsy tornado of sound hailing from Charleston, West Virginia," to a three-record deal.

Wide Open Country chatted with Ferrell in September at Nashville's annual Americana music festival and conference, AmericanaFest, about her transformation from a jazz-crazed punk rocker to an amazing old-time songwriter positioned for a potential breakout album.

Like many young Southerners, Ferrell's appreciation for the music surrounding her at a young age came with maturity and a need to tell her own stories through time-tested means.

"My grandfather listened to gospel, old time country and all of that stuff," she says. "I didn't embrace it until my early 20s. It took me a while to want it."

Discovering roots music opened the door for Ferrell to combine it with her love of jazz -- a passion shared by western swing artists and Willie Nelson -- and the D.I.Y. means of self-releasing music she learned from underground rock scenes.

"I have a country heart but a jazz mind," she says. "I really enjoy old country and old jazz from the 20's, 30's, 40's. I like old island-style music and old surf stuff. It's so good."

Ferrell's songwriting chops, work ethic and a tremendous backing band anchored by fiddler Nathan Leath -- a connection she made at a Honky Tonk Tuesday Night event at Nashville's American Legion Post 82 -- won over an influential fan.

"Gary Paczosa (Rounder's veteran producer and A&R rep) started coming to a lot of my shows," Ferrell says. "He's always been in my corner, just rooting for me. He's been coming and hanging out every once in a while for about half a year."

As Paczosa learned by going to Ferrell's live shows, the singer-songwriter's songbook is overflowing with potential cuts for a new album or three.

"I have so many songs, and I'm writing more every day," Ferrell says. "I probably won't be stopping anytime soon, at least until I'm dead."

Ferrell's first time on a record label doesn't mark a departure from self-sufficiency. Instead, it opens the door for something near and dear to her punk rock heart. While other artists labeled as Americana clamor to cut Amazon exclusives or angle for digital playlist consideration, she's jazzed for her debut vinyl releases.

"I want the fancy ones with flowers or butterflies or something pressed in them," she adds.

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Sierra Ferrell on Her Country Heart, Jazz Mind and Punk Rock Soul