Candy Denouden, Forum News Service, Published July 04 2013
South Dakota cowgirl releases first country music album
“I don’t have big hair, I don’t wear a crazy amount of makeup. I still ride,” Sutton said. “I don’t want to be anything I’m not.”
The recently turned 27-year-old released her first album, “Long Road Home,” on May 7. Her single, “What Goes Around Comes Around,” is around No. 80 on the Texas radio charts.
“So that’s exciting,” she said, though she admits she’s chomping at the bit to hit a lower number.
“My manager called and told me I was at 80, and I was like ‘OK.’ I want to be No. 1,” Sutton said with a laugh. “But I guess it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just snap my fingers and it jumps to No. 1.”
A Burke native, Sutton moved to Stephenville, Texas, about two years ago to get her boot in the door of the country music industry.
“I was playing quite a bit back home, and knew that I wanted to record at some point, somewhere,” Sutton said.
Two years ago, a friend from college was moving to Stephenville and asked Sutton to take a road trip with her to Texas. At a barbecue, Sutton met another musician who eventually ended up producing Sutton’s recently released album.
“I was playing and singing, and he said, ‘You need to come down here and record with us,’” Sutton said. “I thought about it, and … I told myself, whatever is meant to be the right thing, God will put that before me.”
For Sutton, that meant having a job as a pharmacist before making such a big move. Her friend’s neighbor just happened to work at a pharmacy in Stephenville, and told Sutton of a job opening. Sutton got the job.
“Within a week I had a job, so I was like ‘I’m gonna move,’ “ she said. “I knew if I didn’t go then, I knew I probably wouldn’t, and I didn’t want to regret that.”
It was a difficult move for Sutton, because of the distance it put between her and her close-knit family and the ranch where she grew up. Her parents, Bill and Renee Sutton, still live on the Missouri River-adjacent operation.
“They’ve been really awesome, really supportive,” Sutton said of her family. “They were a little nervous at first ... but then once the process started rolling, they could see it was the right thing.”
Growing up on a South Dakota ranch and rodeoing in high school has provided much of the fodder for Sutton’s debut album, with songs about rodeo wives and girlfriends, the gritty life of a traveling rodeo competitor and a song dedicated to her older brother, Billie.
“You write about things that you know,” Sutton said. “ ‘Livin on Rodeo’ was just about one of my brothers’ friends. ... I was talking to him one day, and he said ‘everyone thinks rodeo is so glamorous, but it’s kind of lonely.’ It’s a hard life. It’s a tough way of living.”
Sutton said she listens to all kinds of music, but especially loves old country and 1990s-era country, which could be why her songs have a bit of that flavor.
“It brings back such good memories,” Sutton said of ‘90s country. “That’s the great thing about a song — it will remind me of the first time I was riding with my dad to fix fence or something. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up as a kid in the ‘90s, but I still listen to a lot of ‘90s country.”
Her sound, though, is all her own.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they feel like I sound so different from anything they’ve ever heard,” Sutton said. “Like when you can listen to the radio and say, ‘Oh, I know exactly who that is’ — hopefully that will give me a little bit of an edge.”
Sutton said she’s always known she wants to sing. Her parents impressed upon her the importance of getting an education, which is why she made sure she graduated from the University of Wyoming before pursuing her musical career.
And, before hitting the road to sing, Sutton said she realized she needed to learn an instrument to be able to accompany herself.
“I play piano, but it’s hard to carry a keyboard around,” she said with a laugh.
Her dad bought her a guitar and taught her the basics. She taught herself the rest, and took up songwriting shortly thereafter, about two years ago. Sutton said when she initially began recording her album, she planned on it being a shorter, demo version of what she released.
“As the process moved forward, I started writing a lot more,” Sutton said. “I ended up with 11 song by the end of it.”
One song got cut, making a 10-song album for Sutton’s first.
It accomplished one of Sutton’s biggest goals: to write songs and record an album. But she has more goals moving forward, and will continue trying to carve out her own slice of the spotlight. That will require time, patience and, of course, money.
“In order to get a foot in the door, I’d be kidding if I said it was cheap,” Sutton said. “It costs a lot of money to do all this when you’re not signed with a label and no one knows who you are.”
While some aspiring artists seek out investors, Sutton said it was important to her to be able to pay for the album herself, with the money she makes as a pharmacist.
Trying to do both, though, can be a bit hectic.
“There’s just not enough time in the day,” Sutton said.
In some ways, Texas provides a prime culture for an aspiring musician, Sutton said. Live music can be found at nearly any bar, any night of the week in places like Dallas/Fort Worth, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Stephenville.
“As far as growing as an artist, it’s been a really great place for me,” she said.
But, in other ways, Texas presents its challenges.
“It’s very hard for a female to do well here,” Sutton said. “They all end up going to Nashville.”
She lists former Dixie Chicks frontwoman Natalie Maines, current superstar Miranda Lambert and rising star Kelsey Musgrave as examples.
“But I don’t know, we’ll see,” Sutton said. “It’s a good place to start. I really like it here.”
It’s still not quite home, though. That’s why Sutton said she comes back to South Dakota when she gets the chance, and recently did a whirlwind tour of the state, performing five shows in one week, going from Sturgis to Fort Pierre to Yankton in rapid succession.
It was the first time she’d traveled with her band, which she said brings a different element to performing, versus singing acoustic. But being back among old friends was worth the breakneck pace.
“South Dakota was amazing. Every place was full, and it was friends I haven’t seen in forever,” Sutton said. “It was really cool. We had a lot of support.”
Sutton said she hopes to make another trip to South Dakota at the end of the summer as well. In the meantime, she’ll keep singing in Texas where and when she can, and hopefully see increased radio airplay for her singles. The best way for that to happen, she said, is for fans to call into their local radio stations and request it.
“That helps a lot,” Sutton said. “I’m just going to keep singing and writing, and see what happens.”
And, no matter what happens, Sutton said she’ll stay true to herself.
“I don’t want to be like Miranda Lambert. I don’t want to be like Taylor Swift,” she said. “I just want to be me.”