by Kyla Hurt
“Basically everything inspires me. I toured Europe with a bluegrass band in my early 20s. While everyone else was taking pictures, I was writing songs about every place we went. I felt that songs were the best way to capture the experience. That’s still how I feel about life. If I’ve heard an interesting story, read a great book, or had a moving experience, it feels natural to write about it.”
These are the words of Sally Barris. As described in her bio, she is “an A-list Nashville songwriter who has had songs covered by such top-level artists as Kathy Mattea, Martina McBride, and Lee Ann Womack. Her song “Let The Wind Chase You,” recorded by Trisha Yearwood and Keith Urban, received a Grammy nomination for vocal collaboration in 2009. While her writing credits mightily impress, fans and peers are most captivated by her bright spirit and expressive mountain soprano.”
Well, that, “mountain soprano” is coming to the flat plains of central Illinois; specifically, she’s coming to Jacksonville to lead a three-hour songwriting workshop. Barris considers herself both a songwriter and a singer, explaining that, “They go hand in hand for me,” and also noting that her struggles mostly come with performing. She associates “performing” with “entertaining.” The personal link between the two is an association she finds to be intimidating. To overcome, Barris says, “So I try to turn every stage I am on into a living room, till it becomes intimate. I remember when I saw Jackson Browne in concert. He was playing solo and he was incredible. Just him, the guitar and piano. A night of stories and songs. Those are my favorite shows to go see, when you feel you have the performer all to yourself and they are singing directly to you.”
This idea of an intimate setting is naturally how Barris will be conducting her songwriting workshop. Those who register for the workshop will have Barris right there sitting alongside them. The songwriting workshop will be held on Sunday, April 15 from 1 to 4 p.m., when Barris will personally “share some of [her] tools and ways to get inspired and to get unstuck,” adding that it will be a place where songwriters can feel they are in good company with other writers; everyone is there to support and encourage each other. Those interested in attending the songwriting workshop led by Nashville A-lister can RSVP to email@example.com or call (217) 248-8587. The cost for the three-hour workshop is $25. Those attending are asked to bring a song with lyrics on which he or she is currently working (it can be played live or a recording).
Having been described as sounding like Alison Krause, Dolly Parton or Clair Lynch, Barris’ own songs are a blend of retro country, bluegrass and Celtic music, she says. First stop to listen to her music would be her website, www.sallybarris.com, where you’ll find a listen page and link to her YouTube channel. As per her songwriting process, Barris explains, “On a good day, they both come at the same time. It does take work like anything else. I usually sit down with my guitar and just start playing a riff or play one of my favorite songs. Then I might work on a melody once I’ve found a chord progression I like. Occasionally that, “magic song” seems to fall out of the sky. Those songs are always the best. But I don’t wait for inspiration to happen, I try to show up everyday and work my craft.” Barris has shown up, every day since she started writing songs in her teens.
Still … the words … the perfect words to capture a thought, emotion or scene … you’ve written the lyrics … you read them … you hum them … you sing them … with each trial you find that the words are spot on; but, how do you know? Barris answers that, “In the end, the audience tells me if a song is working. When I am performing I feel like the audience and I are having a conversation. So it’s important for me to not lose them. It’s really back and forth. Even though my songs are personal, they are also universal. I try to write really honestly and tell it like it is.”
When writing a song, “It’s important to shut off your inner editor for as long as you can and simply say whatever it is that you want to say. No judgment, no worry if your idea is good or bad. You just write as if no one is ever going to hear that song but you. To me this is where the real heart of the song comes out. Then you can craft it later.” It seems that it is the “real” songs that stand out. After moving to Nashville (she joked that the move was like going to “boot camp” for songwriters), she found that in the end, it was her most personal songs, “the songs that no one was going to hear,” which were the songs recorded by such names as Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, Martina McBride and others. Barris admits, “Having my songs recorded by other people is the highest compliment in the world for me. I wrote a song with Karyn Rochelle called ‘Let the Wind Chase you.’ Hearing Trisha Yearwood sing it was mind blowing.”
It’s presumably not a songwriting feat to write that this event should be super cool, but it is quite an opportunity for those serious about songwriting and the art of crafting lyrics. Again, the songwriting workshop is from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 15. RSVP for the $25 workshop via firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 248-8587. Once you’ve signed up for the three-hour class, you will be given direction to a Jacksonville home where the intimate workshop will take place. It will be something to see … “when you feel you have the performer all to yourself and they are singing directly to you.” Just Barris and her guitar. An afternoon of stories and songs and songwriting growth.