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Sandra Lynn has a clear memory of the first time she heard one of her favorite country songs as a child. She and her mother were in the car driving through the rural landscape of her native Chino, California, when Deana Carter’s languid ballad “Strawberry Wine” came on the radio. “She was singing about ‘the ‘hot July moon’ and the ‘green on the vine’ — all this vivid imagery that resonated with me on a very deep level,” Lynn says. “The loss of innocence in that song is so relatable. Whenever I hear it now it reminds me of times during my childhood when everything was simpler. That’s what I love about country music. The best songs are so powerful that they actually can define moments in people’s lives.”

Lynn made it her mission to capture that transportive quality on the songs she chose to record for her self-titled debut EP, which was arranged and produced by Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, and features contributions by some of Nashville’s hottest songwriters, including Lori McKenna and Brett James. “I connected immediately with every song,” Lynn says. “Each one tells a very honest story, but in a clever way. To me, ‘You Belong’ is about inspiring someone to escape negativity, recognize their self-worth, and follow their dreams—a message that really speaks to me, while ‘Stones’ is something I could really relate to being in a long-term relationship. Then there’s the flirty, more playful song ‘Hangin Witchu,’ which shows my sassier side.”

Sonically, the collection’s contemporary country sound radiates a laid-back California vibe thanks to Lynn’s roots. Lynn lived in Chino until she was eight, which she describes as “a neighborhood full of horses, horseback trails, and ranch-style homes. There was a dairy farm right down the street from our house next to my elementary school and church.” Noticing that her outgoing daughter liked to perform, Lynn’s mom put her in dance classes at age two and a half and acting classes at five. She began singing at seven, right before her family moved to Brea, CA, in Orange County. Lynn did musical theater, performed at regional festivals and fairs, and sang the national anthem at major league baseball games. She also joined her school’s show choir, which competed all over the state.

Throughout middle school and high school, Lynn listened intently to pop and country music, becoming enamored with such singer-songwriters as Jewel and Michelle Branch and spending hours watching CMT, where she gravitated to such artists as Dixie Chicks and Rascal Flatts, as well as Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Of the latter two, she says: “Aside from the fact that I loved their music and dynamic voices, they came across as wholesome, yet sexy and glamorous at the same time. They seemed like the girl next door you wanted to be best friends with; the kind of artist I aspired to be someday.” While attending Pepperdine University, Lynn was gifted a copy of Patsy Cline’s Ultimate Collection by her aunt, which sparked her interest in other classic country artists like The Judds and Alan Jackson. Inspired by their timeless storytelling, she began looking for people she could write and record demos with after graduating. “I had always written, whether it was journaling in a poetic way or coming up with my own lyrics,” she says, “but after college I put my focus on setting lyrics to melodies.”

For two years Lynn wrote with various writers in Los Angeles, eventually attracting the attention of veteran producer David Foster. Impressed with her voice, Foster connected Lynn to various collaborators in Nashville, where she continued to hone her craft, eventually landing a song, written by Gretchen Peters and Bryan Adams, on the FOX TV show Fringe. Over the last year, Lynn has traveled back and forth to Nashville and worked with writers based in Los Angeles, including Darrell Brown and Robin Lerner. After retaining management, Lynn met DeMarcus, whom she describes as very nurturing and encouraging of her creative process. “Jay has been really great about helping me discover new idiosyncrasies in my voice that help bring out more of my personality in the music,” she says.

“When I first met Sandra, it was exciting to hear about her passion for music,” DeMarcus says. “The more that we talked, the more it became clear that we both envisioned approaching making a record the same way: finding the best songs we could that both fit her voice and were true to what she wanted to say as an artist.”

“The music can be deep, it can be goofy.” Lynn says, “It’s clever, it’s laid-back. It’s a blend of all my musical influences. It makes me want to move and it moves me, and that is exactly what I want it to inspire in others.”