If Sherrié Austin's name sounds familiar to many of you, it's not a surprise. Yes, the beautiful Australian brunette did record four country albums and chart some singles in the late '90s and early '00s (including the Top 20 hit "Streets Of Heaven" in 2003) before taking a break from Nashville for a while. However, despite having been out of the country music scene as a solo artist for close to a decade, this singer-songwriter can be recognized from numerous other points in her multifaceted career.First of all, fans of the '80s sitcom The Facts Of Life may recognize Austin as the girl who played Pippa McKenna in one of the later seasons. Following that, she signed a pop deal with Interscope Records and eventually made her way to Nashville, but acting never left Austin's blood--she left for New York City in 2005 to pursue theater. Several years later she was back in the swing of Nashville things, writing tunes for top artists such as Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and George Strait.
And now, in 2011, at the encouragement of her fans, Austin is finally back as a country artist in her own right.
Her new collection, Circus Girl, which she is releasing independently, was written with her female fans in mind--specifically, fans of her own age. "The last few years I had been complaining about that fact that there weren't any females speaking to women above the age of 30, so I started thinking about how I was writing my songs," she noted. "I wanted to write a 3-minute song with every Sex and the City episode that had ever existed, so I did."
I had the opportunity to sit down and ask Austin a few questions about her new record, her other artistic endeavors, and what it's like to return to this particular spotlight after so many years away. Enjoy!
Our Country: This is your first album in 8 years, which is a very long time by entertainment standards. What triggered you to release an record after such a long period?
Sherrié Austin: Funnily enough, every minute of every day I was making Circus Girl I asked myself the same question! Why now! It doesn't make any sense; I have so many logical, practical reason to not make this CD, and the only answer I kept coming up with (and it's the one that got me through the toughest challenges of doing this independently) is that it was simply "time" again. It's a feeling, I can't really explain, but it came from heart and not my head...it's like I woke up from a very long nap...
Given that you have been away (as a solo artist in this capacity) for a while, did you have any fears regarding the project?
Yes! More than anyone but my closest friends will ever know. Circus Girl is more personal, more raw, than anything I have ever done before and not just creatively. I also co-produced this record, started my own label and had to learn very quickly that the music industry has changed tremendously. Social media is just mind-boggling to me, but it is also the reason that this record even happened at all. Fans were able to communicate directly with me, encouraging me to get back in the studio...it was so incredible to me that they still cared!
You have done just about everything in the performance spectrum--TV, theater, pop music, country music, songwriting. Where do you feel you are personally strongest as an artist?
You got that right...everything but gospel and porn! I think in my heart of hearts the writing will always be my first love, but in the same breath, performing my songs on stage is a whole other kinda high...
Speaking of songwriting, you have written hits for some pretty big Nashville artists. Can you name a favorite one?
"Where've I Been All My Life" that George Strait recorded on his Twang release is one I'm particularly proud of. Who hasn't asked themselves that question a time or two? I got to watch him perform it in front of 10,000 people in concert, who were singing along. I cried, I laughed, I couldn't believe that a thought I had in my head was coming out of everyone's mouth!
You have noted that you wrote your album because you feel there aren't enough artists speaking to women above the age of 30. Do you feel this is a prevalent problem in country music specifically?
I guess I just feel like some of the music from women in country music lately has become a little careful and sugar-coated, very PC. I'm missing some bold, honest, in-your-face, heart-hanging-out-on-your-sleeve, don't care how ugly I look when I cry, make me hurt, make me laugh, make me think, make me FEEL SOMETHING kinda songs...
How do you feel about the direction country music is taking these days?
It feels like country music is expanding--lots of different influences are now coming under the umbrella of what is known as the genre of country music. I think it's a positive direction, because we are attracting listeners from all generations and musical tastes. Still, what makes us unique are the songs themselves...country will always be about real life and real people.
Since you are from Australia, just have to ask--are you friends with Keith Urban? Did you happen to know him before you both became stars?
Yes, I met Keith when I first got to Nashville, that was when people were still scratching their heads and asking "Do they have country music in Australia???" Ha ha, we've come a long way from people saying, "Australian country singers? I don't get it"!
What is your personal favorite song off the new album, and why?
Always a hard question to answer, they are all special to me or else they wouldn't be on this record, but "Circus Girl" was definitely the catalyst for making this CD. It's all about chasing your dreams, running away to join the circus. For me, I thought the circus had left town, but one day I looked up and there it was again--this time in cyberspace! Thanks to the internet I am now back up on the trapeze.