Having just wrapped up an extensive UK tour, singer-songwriters Sonia Leigh and Sasha McVeigh are riding high on new waves of success. They chatted with me about their influences, future ambitions and dream show line-ups.
First of all, tell me a little bit about yourselves please girls.
Sonia: My name is Sonia Leigh I am a singer/songwriter. I live in Nashville, Tennessee and I play a mixture of pop, rock and country music. I love sushi, chicken wings, and whiskey.
Sasha: I’m Sasha McVeigh and I am a British country singer/songwriter. I’m also a huge Disney nerd or “Disnerd” as we’re called, to the extent that I wear a Mickey Mouse watch that I’ve had since I was 4 years old and it doesn’t even work anymore, but I have to wear it!
You both performed at C2C this year to rave reviews. How was that experience for you?
Sonia: It was an absolute humbling experience. I have always wanted to get my music out in the UK and it’s been a huge relief for it to have been so well received. I love the UK!
Sasha: Yeah C2C was amazing. I had a slot just prior to Sonia on the Big Entrance Stage and then one in the Saloon – the saloon stage got so packed they had to shut the doors AND some of my fans couldn’t even get in to see me. It was unbelievable – it got me all teary eyed to be honest. I had a lot of fun!
Sasha, you performed at The AC Award Kick Off Concert alongside the likes of Hunter Hayes, which is quite a big deal. Were you at all nervous?
Sasha: I definitely felt some nerves because it was such a big deal. Not only was I on the bill alongside such huge artists but it was for the Academy of Country Music, that’s like performing at The Opry: it’s an honour and I certainly didn’t want to let them down after they’d had enough faith in me to ask me to perform. It really boosted my confidence and belief in myself to have Bob Romeo, the head of the ACM, put me on that show. There aren’t words to describe that kind of feeling.
You’ve been chosen as “Best Of The Best” by Mark Forrest of BBC Introducing, with your interview on the show having been broadcast across all 40 local BBC radio stations in the UK. How have you found the UK’s response to you so far?
Sasha: They have been amazing. Country music really is starting to make this awesome comeback in the UK and I think it’s fantastic, not just from an artist perspective but as a fan too. I’ve loved country since I was 18 months old. My Dad instilled that love of the genre in me at a young age and just as a big fan myself, I love it that all these US artists are coming over here more to tour and of course it’s wonderful to be able to tour over here with my own audience and have that platform now.
How important is it for you to get out on the road as much as possible?
Sasha: I love touring. I finished the Lindsay Eli tour at the beginning of March and Sonia and I have just wrapped up this one so it’s been a fun start to the year. We’ve had a blast. I can’t wait for the summer shows – they’re going to rock. The touring is a big deal for me because I love performing, that’s the thing for me: playing the shows, writing, the creative side of it. If I could get to a level where I can tour wherever I want and make a living from it, I’d be more than content. I love meeting people and travelling – there’s nothing better than being on the road.
You’re set to release your debut album in a few weeks. What can you tell me about it?
Sasha: The album is being released worldwide on June 8th and I’m so excited about that. It has 10 tracks and 2 bonus tracks plus a booklet. I’m honestly obsessed with the booklet; when I buy a CD, I love it when there’s a really detailed booklet with pictures and all that so I wanted to have one of those for my album. I am so proud of this album and the songs on it because they really do chronicle my life so far. There are some old favourites on there, plus some new songs which I can’t wait for people to hear! The whole album was funded through Kickstarter which makes it even more special for me. I’m just incredibly excited about it.
Where do you find inspiration for your songs and, of those of the album, could you choose a favourite? If so, which is it and why?
Sasha: I find inspiration in my every-day life. All my songs are written from personal experiences – my songs are like little rhyming diary entries. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old and it’s always been my outlet for how I’m feeling. Probably my favourite song on the album is “You Only Live Once” which I actually co-wrote with AJ Masters in Nashville. It was one of my first ever co-writes, but when we got into the room together we just clicked. I had this idea for a song because of something my mum said about life not being a practise run but I just couldn’t finish the song. But AJ and I were able to finish it in 1 hour – he was truly my song-writing soulmate. Sadly he passed away back in January, the day after I came back to Nashville to finish the album, so he never got to play on the album version. As a tribute to him, I included the demo we recorded on a phone at the end of the writing session so you can hear him playing and I had one of his friends use AJ’s guitar to play lead on the full song. That song means the world to me and I’ll cherish it and those memories forever. AJ had a heart of gold and he was the most amazing songwriter. I think about him every day.
Sonia, you’ve been receiving quite a bit of airplay in the UK recently. Are you encouraged to see that more and more people are becoming interested in country style music?
Sonia: I am thrilled to have been added to Scotland BBC radio 2 playlist. I am very surprised to see so many country music fans here and I am excited to see it continue to grow. It is so great to be a part of the movement here in the UK!
Which one country artist, more than any other, do you think is responsible for the rise in interest?
Sonia: I think Taylor Swift maybe because she has made such a massive impact on music period. She became so accessible that I think it opened up the box of curiosity to the UK to explore what else is out there in the country world that they are missing out on.
Is there one artist who ultimately inspired you to get involved in music?
Sonia: I think for me Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow really inspired me as a teenage female to believe that I could be a strong female in music. As a child, my first concert at five years old was the legendary Loretta Lynn. I think originally, she really set the stage for me to do music.
How big a part do you think social media plays in helping artists reach an audience? Would you agree that artists and musicians today must be a part of social networks in order to succeed?
Sonia: I think social media is a very helpful tool for artists to engage with their fans. I think it’s extremely important to listen to your fans and be accessible to them. Social media makes this much easier and possible. I think it may not be necessary to do social media however it sure does make it a hell of a lot easier so why not use the tools we are given? I admit it’s a lot to keep up with and it’s impossible to respond to everyone but at least for me it’s important that my fans know how much they mean to me and that I know it’s because of them that I get to do music for a living.
Your recent co-headline tour was a resounding success, so how did it come about that the two of you would hit the road together?
Sonia: We met in Nashville through a mutual friend and hit it off. Sasha invited me to come to UK and tour with her. It’s something I have been trying to do for a long time so I said yes!
Sasha: Yeah exactly! It’s the weirdest story and what’s funny is we’d tried to get together before but whenever I was in the US, Sonia would be in the UK. But it all came together at the right time and we had a lot of fun.
What would you say each of you brought to the tour?
Sonia: I brought the rock and roll! Sasha, well, let’s just say we create a nice, working contrast. We had a lot of fun and it seems that the fans did as well, so I’m happy.
Sasha: I think although Sonia and I have different styles, we meet in the middle because we’re both story tellers. She brings the edgier side and I think I bring the softer side, but then I do have some songs that lean towards the country rock side. But we both love putting on a show and I think the people who came to see us recognised that. Plus we’re such great friends, I know things are gonna just keep getting better and better!
Could you pick a favourite date that you played?
Sonia: Even before we got there I was looking forward to going to Glasgow and Dublin because I’d never been, so they were special.
Sasha: I’d never been to Scotland either so I couldn’t wait to play in Glasgow. The Leicester show was also really fun because it was at The Musician which is a great little venue. All the shows were fantastic though.
Can you see your plans for co-headlining a tour reaching beyond the UK? Would you tour the US together if you had the chance for instance?
Sonia: I certainly can see that happening – that would be a blast!
Sasha: We’re working on a few things – I can’t say more than that; gotta keep a little bit of anticipation, but you’ll definitely be seeing us doing stuff together in the near future.
For fans attending any future shows you do, what can they expect?
Sonia: Whether they see us on our own tours or together, they will see us having a great time and that’s what it’s all about. Prepare to laugh, maybe cry and I hope they dance, oh, and they should expect to tell their friends they should have been there. But most of all I hope that those who come to a show leave feeling something special in their heart and refreshed.
Sasha: I couldn’t agree more! Sonia and I are just always on the same wave-length. I think people will be surprised to hear me playing with a band too because this tour we’ve just finished has been the first time I’ve played my original songs with a full band, so that’s been exciting for me. We both really put our heart and soul into the live gigs and our music. I know everyone who comes to see us is going to have a great time.
What, to both of you, makes for a great show?
Sonia: Good energy, a good sound man, a great sounding room and fans who are into the music and having a good time!
Sasha: Yep, I agree. Also you have to be totally into what you’re doing. As a performer, no matter what’s happened during the day, you have to go out there and be the best you can be. I also love it when artists really communicate with the crowd and I can talk all day long anyway, so I love telling the stories behind my songs and trying to connect on a personal level with the audience and the fans. I mean whether there are 5 people or 5,000 people, you have to put on an amazing show and have the time of your life doing it.
If you could play any venue anywhere in the world, which would it be and why?
Sonia: I want to play Royal Albert Hall, then I could die happy.
Sasha: The Grand Ole Opry and Ryman are definitely on my list; those are just such iconic venues for country artists but also artists in general. I’d probably start crying on stage if I ever got the chance to play there. So many legends have taken to those stages, I’d just be in awe. Madison Square Garden is also a dream of mine and, like Sonia, so is playing the Royal Albert Hall. Iconic venues like that have so much music history, it’d be the biggest honour to sing on those stages.
I’d like you both to create your own dream show line ups, featuring yourselves and four other bands or artists who can be either living or dead. Who would you choose and why?
Sonia: Iggy Azalea- because she is bad ass and I wanna work with her so bad, then The Killers because I am a huge fan of their music and I think our sounds would blend well and I have a man crush on Brandon Flowers. I’d also have Sia, because she’s so amazing as well as 2Pac – his music has inspired me and kept me strong through so many tough times in my life. I’d also have to add a fifth and that would be Stevie Nicks. There is not another singer in this world who could ever move my soul the way her voice does with the very first note – just pure soul. Her song-writing is so dead on spiritual.
Sasha: My four consist of the Zac Brown Band because they have been a huge inspiration to me. I love everything they do – their song-writing with Wyatt Durrette is just incredible and their musicianship is the best. I would kill to share the stage with them. Then I’d have Elvis Presley because I’ve loved his music since I was 7 years old. He had a way with his fans and a stage presence that was so infectious. He changed the course of music history. I wish I’d been around to see him live. Next, I’d have to say Lady Gaga because not only do we apparently lookalike so it’d be cool to play alongside her, but she has the most incredible voice. It’s so powerful and soulful and she’s a wonderful songwriter and musician. Having her in the same line-up as me would be on another level. Finally I’d HAVE to include Taylor Swift because when I was writing songs, I thought it was weird that I was writing so honestly and openly but then she burst into the scene with these songs that even mentioned the guys’ name and it inspired me to stay true to what I was writing because that honesty got her a long way with her fans.
Where would you like to see yourselves three years from now?
Sonia: I wanna be touring Europe and writing with artist from all genres. Hopefully I’ll be living in London part time in my own home. I’d like to start to learn to produce music as well.
Sasha: I want to be at a level where I’m able to tour all over the place – be living part time in the US and part time here, bridging the gap between the US and UK country market. Still doing what I love, making music and having the best time doing it.
Finally then, what’s next for the two of you?
Sonia: Look out for my performance on Whispering Bob Harris’s YouTube series Under The Apple Tree coming soon! I am also looking forward to my next UK release “Put It In Your Pocket”. When I go back to the States, I will be releasing “Booty Call” and performing at BMI Key West Songwriters Festival in May then gearing up to perform on the Sirius XM The Highway River Front Stage and the BMI stage at LP field as well as The Blue Bird Cafe for the CMA Fest in Nashville during the first part of June! Also, I’ll be working on my next E.P. And maybe I’ll sleep somewhere in between all of that! You can keep up to date with my shows and appearances at www.sonialeigh.com.
Sasha: I have some UK festivals in May including a performance at the Hay Festival on the Telegraph stage which I can’t wait for. My UK single, “Someone To Break My Heart” came out recently as well so expect to hear that on BBC Radio 2, then I’m planning on releasing a US single in the next month to tie in with going over there in June and the album coming out. We’re also planning a Europe tour in the Autumn which I’m really looking forward to. There’s a lot in the works right now and you can keep up with all the announcements via my Facebook – facebook.com/sashamcveigh, my Twitter, @sashamcveigh, and also on my website, sashamcveighmusic.com.