Stories in Sound

Sarah Buxton is making the music she originally set out to make. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter has long excelled inside the machine with her eyes fixed firmly outside of it, plotting a space of her own. On her mesmerizing EP SIGNS OF LIFE, she’s made it. Buxton’s exquisite rasp of a soprano explores death, love, marriage, and the ways we need each other, like a tender but fierce friend willing to share what she’s learned.

“I always wanted to make a record that would live in somebody else’s world the way a Joni Mitchell record does in mine,” Buxton says. “I always felt like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks were my older sisters, walking with me, lifting my chin up and saying, ‘You got this.’” She pauses, then adds, “Instead of being the artist’s, the song becomes yours when you listen to it––your song about your life.”

On SIGNS OF LIFE, Buxton’s songwriting––relied upon for years now by Nashville A-listers––is more potent than ever, vulnerable and free in the service of Buxton’s own vision and story. Sacred, feminine, natural, and wise, her new songs exude the energy mustered by looking for answers and the calm that comes with trusting yourself. “Obviously, I’m more mature than I was in my early 20s, but I kind of look at my place in the world the same way now that I did then,” she says. “When you’re older, you’re just as potent as you were, but with wisdom.”

A singer’s singer who’s lent her signature ethereal grit to projects for a range of artists from Miranda Lambert to Dierks Bentley to David Nail to Blake Shelton to Will Hoge, Buxton has also written songs for a list that’s equally impressive: Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, Big & Rich, Gary Allan, Trisha Yearwood, Caitlyn Smith, Sarah Jarosz, Reba McEntire, Harry Connick Jr., Dan Tyminski, and more. She’s sung on records for Urban, Florida Georgia Line, McBride, Smith, Tyminski, and numerous others as well––evidence of a telling pattern: When discerning ears hear her voice singing her song, they want to incorporate as much of Buxton’s magic into their own version as possible. Buxton has also contributed songs to hit TV series such as Nashville, for which she and co-writer Kate York earned an Emmy nomination.

When Buxton moved to Nashville from her native Kansas after high school graduation, she began school at Belmont University and co-founded Southern rock band Stoik Oak, who toured regionally. She signed her first publishing deal in her early 20s and not long after, inked a record deal with Lyric Street. Ultimately, that experience clarified her understanding of who she is and what she wants. “I think the reason I didn’t become a famous country singer was I wasn’t supposed to be a famous country singer,” Buxton says. “Simplicity––that’s what I hold on to.”

After Lyric Street’s dissolution, Buxton took control of her own career––and she hasn’t relinquished it since. Answering only to herself, she emerged as a powerhouse writer, formed duo Buxton Hughes with Jedd Hughes, then created Skyline Hotel with York, Daniel Tashian, and Ian Fitchuk, all while working on solo projects. Whether writing songs or making music, a common thread of giving, receiving, and growing weaves throughout her work. “Pleasure, fun, and connecting with people––that’s when I make the best music, and when I’m the most happy,” she says.

Recorded at Tashian’s studio, SIGNS OF LIFE is a gorgeous product of the balance Buxton has mastered: chemistry with brilliant friends in support of her own confident vision. Stunning “By Myself” is both empowering and heartbreaking––an unwavering meditation on a universally shared fate. The song was inspired by Lari White, Buxton’s dear friend and former producer, who passed away, surrounded by her teenaged children and husband, Chuck Cannon. Buxton got to go and say goodbye, too. “I couldn't stop thinking about it. I told my husband, even if we die at the same time, you still have to go through it alone,” Buxton says. “Realizing that has made me really change the way I approach my life.”

Over and over again, the six-song collection explores questions of what it means to rely on each other, the forms real strength can take, and the beauty of good timing. Over strings and piano, “Like I Need You” is an aching confession of dependency and frustration. With out-front acoustic guitar, “Little Bit Better” pleads for a chance to help, all while realizing there is only so much she can do. “I feel like a huge theme in my life is learning how to love myself, listen to myself, observe myself, and accept myself,” says Buxton. “I used to have people I would go to for answers, but now, I’m trying to lean a little bit more on my own intuition.”

The natural world has also shaped Buxton’s new music, as a beacon of resilient grace and acceptance in the face of transformation. Songs including “By Myself” and “Little Bit Better” are punctuated by earthy buzzes and hums, while vivid imagery such as the river in “Like I Need You” offer lush landscapes as balms.

Buxton finds solace in nature. “Think about a forest fire, and the burnt trees left behind,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll find a river of dead trees flowing through a sea of green ones. But those trees that are no longer living are so beautiful, and there’s so much hope in that. Yes, things change––but they stay beautiful.”

Urgent “Only the Truth” unfolds over percussive synths and heartbeats like a dreamy classic waiting to be discovered. “Some Things Don’t Change” powers through similar sonic territory, musing over the grinning acceptance that’s only earned with time. “The best songs come to you––they just come through you,” Buxton says. “They just kind of swoop in the room, and everybody knows it when it happens. It’s like cooking, making love, or dancing––with all of yourself.”

A triumphant tribute to the fresh eyes and new hope other people can help create, “Signs of Life” utilizes a playful soundscape and offers one of Buxton’s most powerful––and nuanced––vocal performances. “There are times when we need connection, for someone just to be present, and friends, co-writers, or others come along at just the right time,” she says. “There are all these little angels in our life.”

For Buxton, SIGNS OF LIFE is part of a bigger commitment to holding on to what matters and letting go of what we thought we needed, but don’t. “It takes courage to grow younger in your heart as you’re getting older, and to not just close off,” Buxton says. “It takes a lot of shedding, too. There is a lot of grief in these songs. It’s been a time of growing up for me––but it’s also a return to who I was.”

For some, music is just a way to let out a little bit of energy, but for Sarah Buxton it’s so much more than that– it’s a way of life. Browse the site to learn more about how you can collaborate.