THE PASSIONATE, YET PRACTICAL, SARA BURNS
Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai
There’s Sara Burns the typical college student, happy to be home for a break after a rugged schedule of final exams as an accounting major at the University of South Carolina. Then there’s Sara Burns the emerging singer-songwriter, gearing up for her summer gig as an entertainer and generating a buzz from here to Nashville upon release of her recording debut.
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Her potential career paths are indeed diverse, yet the outgoing 20-year-old Sea Pines resident is confident that, whatever happens, she’s rightfully following her heart and remaining open to whatever fate and her talent might bring.
“I always knew that I wanted to pursue music,” Burns said over coffee at local café, “but when I graduated from [Hilton Head] high school, I also knew that I needed to be practical and go to college. I didn’t want to become another starving musician, because the business is so tough and such an unpredictable game… but I’m young, and now is the best time to try and pursue a career in music.”
And she’s off to an impressive start. The self-taught musician (“I’ve never had a singing or guitar lesson, because I guess I just don’t want anyone telling me what to do,” she laughed.) moved from Ohio “like everyone else here” at the tender age of 10 when her parents opted to make the family’s annual vacation destination permanent.“I was a public school girl and remember falling in love with country music, not the old-fashioned twangy stuff, but contemporary singers like Shania Twain.” However, Burns’ first public shows included a themed school production where she cranked out a version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
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“I know it doesn’t show in my own music, but I’m a big fan of classic rock,” she said with an easy smile. “It’s my guilty pleasure, even though it’s hard to pull off Led Zeppelin while playing acoustic.”
She soon scored sporadic gigs at area restaurants, including the Old Oyster Factory, her exclusive performance home this summer, meanwhile honing her personal songwriting style and focusing on late-90s cover songs by the likes of Alanis Morrisette and Jewel for the public. She credits her father, Brian, a property manager at Providence Presbyterian Church, for hounding church youth director Kevin Bruchert about his daughter’s growing skill as a songwriter.
A one-time touring bassist for the The Fray among other credits, Bruchert eventually gave a listen to Burns’ pop and country rock-influenced material after admitted reluctance. “He tried to talk me out of it initially because of how tough the business is. A lot of people get hurt, and there are a lot of people who can sing; but he thought I had strong songwriting skills and picked out the songs he wanted me to record.” So Burns put down the vocals and guitar tracks at home and, with the magic of today’s digital recording process, Bruchert found Nashville-based musicians eager to augment the finished sound that’s became Past Tense.
The three-track EP is a surprisingly mature and confessional compilation that showcases Burns’ convincing light-vibrato vocals and emotional honesty. The mid-tempo title track looks back on a failed relationship, while “Too Late” mines a rockier groove that contrasts with a straight-ahead love ballad (“When You Kiss Me”) that might make Taylor Swift envious. “I had a relationship that ended after about three years,” Burns said, “but I’m definitely not bitter about it. The songs are about how you grow and learn lessons, and they all have a positive message about recovery and moving on.”
Nashville has taken note. Burns made her maiden trip to the mecca of country music in May to meet with producers, musicians and potential songwriting partners as Past Tense (available via iTunes, Amazon and Saraburns.com) continues to draw attention. A second pressing of physical copies is in the works as Burns settles in for summer shows as the featured artist at the Old Oyster Factory, performing Sunday through Friday evenings. “I can’t believe how much support I’ve gotten, and it’s been great,” she said. “I’ve been playing here for years, but a lot of people and friends didn’t even know about me and my passion for music… it’s kind of like I’ve been leading a double-life.”
Yet Burns is keeping her dreams in perspective, fully aware of the fickle nature of the music business as she hones her skills and observes an uncertain media-driven market. “I don’t like most of today’s mainstream music because so much of it is performance-driven. But country music has pulled so much from [classic] pop and rock, and I get a great feeling from what they’re doing. I’d much rather be working in Nashville than L.A.”
Her future remains in question, like everyone else’s of course, but the personable young woman shows no signs of worry as she prepares for a working summer and fall return to college for her graduation year. She’s already working on a back-up plan in accounting, and her expanding knowledge about finance should help her avoid the contractual and royalties disputes that have left more than one artist on the skids.
“If I had a choice between the two, it would definitely be music,” she said. “It would be great if something happens with it but you have to be smart about what you do. I like money, I love math and I really enjoy accounting. I just wish it wasn’t so hard,” she smiled. “No matter what happens, I’d like to think that I haven’t been wasting my time.”