Country Next: Heath Sanders
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Heath Sanders.
Heath Sanders; Photo by Ford Fairchild
For nearly 10 years, Heath Sanders spent his days working on natural gas wells in Arkansas and now, he’s signed to one The Valory Music Co., where he spends his days writing and recording alongside his heroes.
Sanders’ musical journey began in 2018 when he garnered viral attention with a cover of Chris Stapleton’s “Either Way” that he filmed in his living room. Once he saw the reaction to his music, he sold one of his deer-hunting rifles and purchased a PA system and began playing in local bars. He soon caught the attention of multi-media personality Bobby Bones, who invited him to Nashville to appear on The Bobby Bones Show.
Fast forward to 2021: Sanders released his debut EP, Common Ground, which features four tracks he co-wrote alongside heavy-hitters such as Casey Beathard, Ben Hayslip and Kyle Jacobs. Produced by Dann Huff, the project serves as a solid introduction to Sanders and his unique brand of country music that celebrates life and the working man.
Country Now recently caught up with Sanders to chat about taking the leap of faith to pursue music, how his upbringing inspires him and his EP.
Read on to learn more about Heath Sanders in this exclusive Q&A…
What inspired you to pursue a career in country music?
Well, there were really a lot of factors but ultimately it came down to my friends, family and fans. It wasn’t just their encouragement and validation though it was more so their faith and trust in me to represent them, to deliver their message to anyone willing to listen. Country music, in its entirety, was built on giving small town America a voice. Once I realized it wasn’t only about the music, everything changed for me.
Were you nervous to leave your day job? What ultimately led you to take the leap?
Absolutely terrified! That was such a huge decision. Walking away from such a stable career was one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered on this journey. It really all boiled down to having to pick one or the other. I was working Monday through Friday, then leaving out to play shows till 2am on Friday and Saturday night, only to drive home on Sunday and be up at 5 on Monday. It was either succeed at one career or fail at both. So, one night I simply asked myself, “Do you want to be 80 years old, sitting in your porch swing, pondering the ‘what ifs’ or do you want to be reflecting on the chances you took to have the opportunity to affect peoples lives?” That was an easy decision.
What was your parents’ response to your decision?
Well, my dad had no response at all really, but my mom still calls every couple of weeks to say “I told you so”. While I have my dad and paternal grandparents to thank for my musical foundations, it’s always been my mom’s encouragement and belief in me that pushed me forward. It’s pretty satisfying getting to see my mom be so proud of something she fought so long and hard for.
How does your small-town upbringing influence your music?
In almost every single aspect. I’m so grounded in that culture that I couldn’t escape its influence if I wanted to. It’s something that I’m incredibly grateful for and am very aware of the fact that if not for that raising, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today.
You mentioned that you listened to a lot of music while working in the oil fields. Who were some of your go-to artists to listen to and why?
I’ve been through many musical phases in my lifetime but I would say from those oilfield days to the present my go-tos ranged from Eric Church, Brantley Gilbert and Luke Combs to Blackberry Smoke, Whiskey Myers and even the dark melodies of Chris Knight. There’s something that draws me to gritty artists and bands.
Can you share the story of how your Chris Stapleton cover sparked your success?
Yeah, that actually all began as a dare. I got a buddy in Texas who knows I’m not the greatest guitarist but loves to put some pressure on me every chance he gets. So he calls me up one day and says “dude you aint got a hair one if you dont cover ‘Either Way’ and put it on Facebook.” It took me like two weeks just to learn how to play the dang thing. We neither one imagined it would lead to millions of views and an introduction to the biggest country radio morning show host in the world. Crazy! My Facebook page was only about four months old but grew over night from a few hundred friends and family to tens of thousands overnight. Three days after posting I decided to write my first song, which happened to be the same day Bobby Bones contacted me. Looking back, I still can’t believe that one video changed the entire course of my life.
What was your reaction when you got the call to perform on The Bobby Bones Show?
Scared me to death. When me and Bobby spoke for the first time, I had only written a verse and half the chorus of “Bloodline,” which was my first independent single and really was the first song I’d ever taken the time to write properly. So when Bobby asked me to come on the show and play an original, I freaked out a bit. Heck, I only had half of an original. Besides that, the biggest crowd I’d ever played for was 50 or 75 people. It was a dang rollercoaster of a week.
Has Bobby Bones shared any advice with you that you continue to take with you on your journey?
If I’ve learned anything from Bobby, it’s how to seize the moment. How to swallow your fear and your pride and make yourself vulnerable to an audience. Most of those lessons have come from the opportunities he’s given me.
Congratulations on your record deal! Did you ever imagine you would end up on the same label group as artists like Tim McGraw and Thomas Rhett?
Thanks! No way! I remember running into TR outside of Big Machine back when I first started coming to town. I caught him crossing the parking lot and ran over to shake his hand and tell him congratulations on all his recent success. Never could’ve imagined then that I’d have the same team, that got him where he is, at my back. I remember watching Tim on stage in Florida back in 2009, long before a career in music ever crossed my mind. Who’d have thought, life’s crazy!
What do you hope fans take away from listening to your EP?
I guess I’d just be happy to know that they found what they were looking for when they pushed play on any of the songs. Maybe it’s a dance around the kitchen to “Love Needs Makin.” Maybe it’s some unanswered question on a dirt road with “Can’t Undo I Do” playing in the background. Maybe it’s feeling a little prouder of your roots with “Old Schools In” cranked up with the windows down or maybe it’s pondering modern society and what you can do to help while singing along to “Common Ground.”
The song that stuck me most is the title track. Can you share the story behind “Common Ground?”
“Common Ground” is kind of a testament to the things I’ve learned over the last three years. You know, up until then I’d never been north of Missouri or west of Texas, so my worldview was pretty limited. Now that I’ve spent some time traveling the country it’s become obvious to me how similar we all truly are and how much we all have in common at the very core of our being. Most of us just want to be free to live, love and provide for our families, whether you’re in downtown Chicago or in the Ozark Mountains.
Aside from music, what are some of your hobbies?
Outside of music, dogs, deer, bass, boats and motorcycles consume most of my time. When I can afford it I plan to get back in the horse business though. Some of the best days of my life have been spent on the back of a good trail horse.
What’s next for you?
It’s hard to say precisely. We’re just taking this thing one day at a time at the moment but I hope to be back in the studio by the end of 2021. Our immediate future will consist of working our tails off to get the music to as many ears as possible.
Fans can keep up with Heath Sanders on Instagram.
Lauren Jo Black
Lauren Jo Black, a University of Central Florida graduate, has immersed herself in the world of country music for over 15 years. In 2008, she co-founded CountryMusicIsLove, eventually selling it to a major record label in 2015. Following the rebranding of the website to Sounds Like Nashville, Black served as Editor-in-Chief for two and a half years. Currently, she assumes the role of Editor-in-Chief at Country Now and oversees Country Now’s content and digital footprint. Her extensive experience also encompasses her previous role as a Country Music Expert Writer for Answers.com and her work being featured on Forbes.com. She’s been spotlighted among Country Aircheck’s Women of Influence and received the 2012 Rising Star Award from the University of Central Florida. Black also spent time in front of the camera as host of Country Now Live, which brought live music directly to fans in 2021 when the majority of concerts were halted due to the pandemic. During this time, she hosted 24 weeks of live concerts via Country Now Live on Twitch with special guests such as Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Jordan Davis, Brett Young, and Jon Pardi. Over the course of her career, she has had the privilege of conducting interviews with some of the industry’s most prominent stars, including Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Lainey Wilson, and many others. Lauren Jo Black is a longtime member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.