Gwen Sebastian first came to country music’s attention in 2012 as a member of Team Blake on the NBC reality series “The Voice.” Since releasing her self-title album in 2013, the North Dakota native has been writing, touring and singing background vocals for superstar Miranda Lambert, who Gwen met as a mentor on the singing competition series.
Fast forward to 2017 and Gwen couldn’t be more excited about her latest album, Once Upon a Time in the West: Act 1, which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes country chart.
“I can’t even believe it’s been four years,” Gwen tells One Country of the wait between albums. “That’s way too long. About a year and a half ago I started writing for this album and I asked a bunch of my friends to write with me. In between there I’ve just been touring, doing a lot of dates with Miranda Lambert —singing back up with her and doing a few tour dates of my own. This album itself, we recorded it last year and I don’t know why the heck we’ve taken so long to release it.”
Once Upon a Time in the West, of which Gwen wrote or co-wrote all 13 songs, contains the lead single, “Cadillac,” and songs written by Ashley Monroe, Brady Seals and three cuts co-written by her friend Miranda Lambert, who sings back up vocals for Gwen on “Oh Cowboy.”
“This album, I definitely wanted to go in and do something a little bit more out of the box. It has all of my music influences, not just country influences,” Gwen said. “I went in to write it and record it and I wanted it to sound a bit like a movie soundtrack—Quentin Tarantino style—where it would have some elements of a dark feeling but then also have some sleek elements, like Emmy Lou Harris coming in through there. That kind of thing, but with other influences like Bonnie Raitt, The Eagles and just a little bit more of a funk attitude on some of the tracks. I guess I call it Cowgirl Funk.”
One Country caught up with the “My Eyes” singer— a song she sang with Blake Shelton, that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart— to talk about her friendship with Miranda Lambert, working with her husband Louis, who produced the new album, and the songs she can’t wait for everyone to hear.
Who’s the voice in the beginning of the song “Once Upon A Time in the West?”
“That’s Brady Seals. He’s my co-writer on there along with Brian Eckert. Brady wanted to write a song called ‘Wine and Spaghetti Westerns’ and we’d been writing some other tunes. I went home that night and I was watching, I can’t remember if it was a Tarantino film or something like that, like ‘Django [Unchained].” I thought, ‘You know what, maybe the title isn’t necessarily that, but to incorporate in a way of if it’s a boy and a girl—I’m the wine and my husband is the spaghetti western aspect of it. Like he’s the opposite kind of thing, and that’s where it came from. I wrote that first verse upstairs in my living room at the time and then brought it in to Brady and Brian and it just took off from there. That’s where the whole title of the album came from, which it’s only referenced once in the song. I think it represents the album in it’s entirety. That’s what it feels like to me.”
Miranda Lambert returns the favor by singing background vocals on “Oh Cowboy” for the album. What’s your relationship with Miranda like?
“She’s one of my best friends. She’s like the sister I never had. I met her as my mentor on ‘The Voice.’ We met in a circumstance where you’re on camera. We talked about this—the moment we met we felt a connection right away. In fact, we actually cried after we had this interview process where we had to talk to each other on camera, we both cried and we can’t figure out why. Maybe it’s because we’re both dorks, but that happened. Over the process, these years we’ve become very good friends and I love her. She’s an inspiration not just musically but just the way she lifts other females up in her life. She’s such a champion of that and you don’t always find those people and I’m sure lucky to have found that.”
Tell me the story behind your next single, “Quicksand,” what’s it about?
“I wrote that with Terry Jo Box and Chris Harris. We got together to write and Chris is a great guitar player and so he started just kind of coming up with the riff. I mentioned like a Sheryl Crow kind of thing and he came up with that riff and then I just kind of blurted out the first line and we went from there. Terry Jo had the title and was always trying to figure out how to write that.
The song is about staying away from someone who is toxic and dangerous in your live and you just can’t help it its just like sinking down into Quicksand.”
The album is produced by your husband Louis. What’s the dynamic between you two, spending all that time together—in the studio and at home?
“I would like to say I’m the boss, but when it comes to music he is one of the most talented men I’ve ever met. He has an excellent ear for music. This album in particular, we sat down and picked out the songs together and then I gave some inspiration from other songs that I like and other albums that I like, to incorporate into it and give examples to the musicians so they kind of got the concept of what we wanted to go for, but he definitely lead the way on that. I lead the way in the house though for sure.”
Is there a lot of arguing?
“I get irritated with him, because he acts as a producer. But we were lucky on this too, we recorded it with the band, so I sing everything with the band so we didn’t really come back in and redo vocals, we wanted it to be the natural take on it.
Somehow we made it. We had our fourth wedding anniversary recently, but we’ve been together for 14 years.”
Do you have a favorite song on the album that you want everyone to hear?
“I love ‘Cadillac’ so much and I’m glad that was the first song off the album. There’s a few on there that I can’t wait for people to hear, in particular a song called ‘Cry To Jackson’ which features Blu Sanders, a friend of ours that I co-wrote that with. That song came about because Terri Jo Box’s (the third co-writer on the song) dad was here visiting from Texas and they were shopping and she looked at her dad and he looked so sad and she said, ‘Dad what’s wrong’ and he said ‘It’s OK, it’s just that I’m leaving today, but I’ll probably only cry to Jackson.’ I mean sad and sweet at the same time and so that’s where that song tittle came from. So, I can’t wait for people to hear that and to hear Blu sing on it, he’s so amazing.
“And a song called ‘Oh Cowboy’ that I wrote with a glass of wine at my piano one night. It’s about my parents essentially, about how they work so hard and have to lean on God in the winter for their life, because they are ranchers and farmers. They work so hard for their children, only to see them grow up and move away. The happy part of it is that they are together and they have each other to lean on and they’ve got music in their life to help them out with that.”
What does 2018 look like for Gwen Sebastian?
“I’m going to continue singing with Miranda, she starts her tour in January, so I’ll be with her on that. I’m looking to do a late spring early summer tour myself. I want to do some things in the states but I’d love to go over the UK and tour there as well. They have some really cool venues over there. That’s what I’m intending to do and of course I’m writing and always looking to write for the next project and writing with friends for theirs. I’m lucky to still love being on the road.”
Once Upon a Time in the West Track listing with Songwriters:
1.”Once Upon a Time in the West” – Gwen Sebastian, Brady Seals, Brian Eckert
2.”Blue Flame” – Gwen Sebastian, Terri Jo Box, Randall Clay
3.”Cadillac” – Gwen Sebastian, April Lewis, Miranda Lambert
4.”Wing and a Feather” – Gwen Sebastian, Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe
5.”Love Birds” – Gwen Sebastian, Aaron Raitiere, Adam Hood
6.”Ain’t All That Bad” – Gwen Sebastian, Terri Jo Box, Randall Clay
7.”Cry to Jackson” – Gwen Sebastian, Terri Jo Box, Blu Sanders
8.”Losers and Lashes” – Gwen Sebastian, Terri Jo Box, Randall Clay
9.”Quicksand” – Gwen Sebastian, Terri Jo Box, Chris Harris
10.”Oh Cowboy” – Gwen Sebastian
11.”I’m Not With The Band” – Gwen Sebastian, April Lewis, Miranda Lambert, Anderson East
12.”Drunk or Stone”- Gwen Sebastian, Brady Seals, Brian Eckert
13.”Way to Go” – Gwen Sebastian