Groovy she may be, but Sherrié Austin’s hipster sex appeal and spark-plug personality is only the gravy around what’s obviously the specialty entree — her music.
It wasn’t long ago that this 26-year-old songstress from Australia knocked on country’s door with the scorching “Lucky In Love,” a sizzler-of-a song that opened our eyes and ears to yes, another pretty face, but to a voice as beautiful as they come. Turns out, we’re actually the lucky ones. According to Sherrié, she plans to be around for a bloody long time.
“I didn’t get into this for an overnight success,” admits Sherrié, with her luring Australian accent. “I don’t mind the work, and I’d like to be able to do this for a long time. So maybe it’s all a bit slow right now, but my steps get more sure every day.”
Sherriés career has been anything but slow from the word go. From the time she was 13, she’s been performing in front of a live audience in some form or fashion. After pursuing the stage of practically every music festival possible in her native Australia, she eventually landed several opening act slots for Johnny Cash by the time she was 15. By also adopting songwriting as part of her talent package, she ultimately found herself in Nashville with a recording contract and her Arista Records debut disc, Words, on which she either penned or co-penned seven of the album’s ten cuts.
Her current single, “Put Your Heart Into It,” the follow-up to her riveting “One Solitary Tear” ballad, is making a phenomenal radio and video splash. It’s even further proof that she made the right, yet unusual, choice to move from the Outback to the states.
“No one ever thought I was crazy, especially my parents,” she explains of her decision to move to Nashville. “Dad was always a little more sensible than mom about taking our time and thinking things through. But Mom’s a real dreamer and pretty impulsive. Between the two of them, I think I’ve got a really nice balance. From the time that I told them I was going to be an entertainer when I grew up, they took it seriously and were very supportive. But I’ve written and sung all different kinds of music. I’ve written and sung pop, alternative and everything. But for me, what I love best and what seems to work best for me is country. There was a time there that I wasn’t sure it was. But every time I would write a song there would be that country element in it. And I love writing a story that has a beginning and end and it not just be about a groove. So I figured then, ’Heck, I’m a country singer.'”
And while it may be difficult for us southerners to imagine that Australia is big on country music, Sherrié explains that there are more similarities than most people realize.
“If you landed in Australia in the middle of a country music festival, it would be like being at Fan Fair (in Nashville, Tennessee). It’s exactly the same. The only difference is that we have a different accent. But Australia, I always describe, is very similar to America, but is more like a very big suburb of Texas. Australians and Texans are very similar. My mom is a big country fan. She loved Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Anne Murray and Dolly Parton. So I heard all that kind of music growing up, too, as well as music like that from the Eagles, Elton John and Bread, which are some of my favorites. So I’ve had a lot of different influences from both country and pop. I think you can hear that in my album. It would be a lie to say that I’m traditional because I’m not, but I do have elements of that in there.
“But once you get past my accent when you listen to the songs and what I’m singing about, it’s still country,” she says. “But people say they can’t even hear my accent when I sing. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up listening to American records. As a kid when I was mimicking and starting to learn things about singing, I was listening to Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Barbra Streisand and Patsy Cline. So I have a mixture of all those, and no one can ever put a finger on who exactly I sound like. But you can’t really hear my accent, and I’m not really sure why,” she laughs.
It’s difficult to put a finger on Sherrié, period. She’s the living result of winding emotions, experiences and challenges all wrapped around a personality that’s as versatile as her musical influences, as well as her Patsy Cline-meets-Spice Girls fashion twist. Sherrié, however, likes that just fine.
“I try not to over think it all too much and just be myself,” she says. “I feel like that my music is what’s the most individual. I love to dress up and be a girl who’s fun and sassy. There is that part of my personality. But there’s also that side of me that likes to just be quiet, write a song and maybe go out and have a glass of wine and a serious, intelligent conversation. Then there are other times that I just want to let my hair down and be nuts. It’s not a matter of choosing which one, because I’m both. You can really get caught up in this world thinking which side you want to show to the public. But for me, this is it. It’s what you get, and I can’t be anything but this.
“But country music has definitely changed in a lot of ways when it comes to fashion. It never used to be so much about that. But with all the new female artists, that’s definitely become an issue. That’s all well and good, and I understand that side of it, but you can’t have any of that without the music. Maybe you can in some other music formats, but in country music you don’t get away with it, and if you do, you don’t get away with it too long. There’s always a new pretty face, and there’s always going to be somebody else who comes around the corner who’s cute. As long as there’s great music, it’s fine. Country hasn’t necessarily been about who’s the best looking and who’s the most fashionable. It’s been about great singers. The fashion aspect of it has really only come into the whole equation in the last few years. I admit that I’ve started to feel a little bit of pressure in that department, too. It’s mainly with the girls, though. The guys never change. It’s always the hat and the boots,” she laughs.
While long-time, avid country fans may comprise a high percentage of true, traditional die-hards, Sherrié feels that her contemporary approach to both fashion and music is only a plus when it comes to reeling in new fans of country music.
“I think ’country’ maybe has a different meaning today than it did six years ago,” Sherrié admits. “Like I always say, it’s very important to have traditional music because that’s where country music was born, but it’s also wonderful to have contemporary country music because it’s made the format grow and has brought a lot more people in than country music has ever had before. That’s positive to me. It’s a good thing, and we don’t want to go back.
“I think if you look at the artists who are doing really well now–especially a lot of the female artists like Shania Twain and Deana Carter, they’re doing contemporary stuff,” continues Sherrié. Then there’s Lee Ann Womack, who’s just as successful doing traditional. There’s just got to be room for both. You can’t really have one without the other. I think it’s all about balance. I don’t understand why people criticize one or the other.”
Sherrié learned all about balance while touring for the first time throughout this past year. She was the opening act for Trace Adkins and Tracy Lawrence.
“It was just so wonderful to sing for that many people every night — a real country audience,” she explains. “It’s the real deal and not just for radio or industry people. These were people who paid money to come and see us. That’s amazing to see that they get so much out of a show. They made me feel very welcome. Because when you are a new artist, they’re not really there to see the opening act. They’re there to see Trace and Tracy. I always got the feeling that when I left the stage that the audience and me became better friends. We shook hands, and we are all in this together now. I kinda felt like I made it into the club.”
The young singer is making it into several clubs these days. In addition to being listed as one of Country America magazine’s Top 10 New Stars and Billboard’s top new artist poll, Sherrié recently picked up the Golden Guitar award for Best New Talent. The honor represents one of the most significant awards presented by the Country Music Association of Australia during the annual Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Ironically, it was the same festival several years ago that offered Sherrié her first opportunity to move to the United States to pursue her musical dream. She won the top honor in Tamworth’s songwriting competition — a ticket to the states to record an album. At the time, however, the move just didn’t seem right. Sherrié later, however, auditioned along with several other girls from all over the word, for a new role on the already top-rated sitcom Facts Of Life. Sherrié aced the auditions and landed the role of Pippa McKenna, a foreign exchange student from the Outback. Sherrié played the part for the entire last season of the prime time hit. Ultimately, the acting gig became Sherriés second ticket to the U.S.
Having lived in Music City now for five years, what’s best for Sherrié is to continue living out a dream come true where everything is unpredictable. “It’s knowing that every day I get up I never know what’s going to happen that day. There’s always something different to do. It’s so amazing to have a job that’s always changing. One day you’re doing this, and the next you’re doing that. Some days are up, and some days are down. Some days you’re happy, and some days you’re depressed. I’ve experienced every emotion you could possibly experience in the last year since my album came out. It’s nerve-racking and exciting, but it’s fun.”
What’s even more unpredictable, yet fun, for Sherrié are the results from her next album. “The first album is totally me,” she admits. “It’s a lot about my first experience with a broken heart, falling in love and all that stuff. A lot of the songs that I’ve written for this next record — it’s kinda funny — are a little more positive. So I figure I must be way over him by now,” she chuckles. “There’s just been so many exciting things to happen that I’ve just felt like writing about really good things. And not that everything is depressing on the album, Words, because there’s a lot of fun and uptempo stuff there. I just want this next album to be as real as that one because it really did come from me. If I could do an album as good as Words, because I’m very proud of it, I would be thrilled. But I’m trying to beat it, and that might be tough because I put everything I could into that one. So I’m trying to put everything I can into this one.”
While working on her next album is obviously a top-of-the-list priority for Sherrié, working on her fans is equally important — important, but by all means not something to rush.
“I think it takes time for people to get to know someone,” ponders Sherrié. “You can’t give everybody everything all at once. I think the public, especially the country audience, has to begin to learn a little bit about you and feel like they’re a little bit a part of your life. I’m so new right now, I think they’re still trying to figure me out. Right now, I think we’re still getting to know each other.”